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Accessing Food Truck Events

May 24, 2013 Featured, Popular Culture, Retail 50 Comments

I love patronizing food trucks, street food is part of the reason I live downtown. Food trucks are often located at various downtown locations, right next to the sidewalk. Very convenient.

Foods trucks at Third Degree's recent open house
Foods trucks at Third Degree’s recent open house

Food truck events, on the other hand, aren’t so convenient for those of us who’re disabled. Walking across grass, which is often uneven, is not an easy task. For some, it’s impossible.

The able-bodied can easily line up in grass.
The able-bodied can easily line up in grass.

For a few years now cities coast to coast have wrestled with accessibility of popular food truck events, so no citizens are excluded from participation. In 2011 Napa, CA halted a friday night event until a more accessible location could be found (source).

I’m asking local organizers to consider everyone when planning a food truck event.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "50 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Agree in concept, but how do you reconcile the fact that nearly every food truck’s service windows are way higher than the 34″ maximum that the ADAAG requires? A week ago, you were all over a building that didn’t provide equal access to people with disabilities. Just parking these trucks next to an accessible sidewalk won’t do much to provide equal access to the products they’re selling. It’s no more of an insurmountable design issue than where the front door is located at the St. Louis Hills Medical Center, nor the recent lawsuit against Hollister: http://jezebel.com/surprise-surprise-hollister-discriminates-against-the-508952206

  2. Mark says:

    My brother owns a downtown restaurant that depends on a robust lunch trade. He employs 5 full time and 2 part time employees, in addition to himself. Nearly every day, a food truck typically pulls up to the curb a block from my brother’s brick-and-mortar-real-estate-taxpaying business and probably lures customers from my brother’s restaurant. (He of course can’t be certain, but he’s no idiot!) At the end of the day, the food truck drives off, (sometimes cleaning up the street after his customers) and my brother remains at his storefront location, doing what everyone knows must be done to encourage the development of a downtown area: paying his lease so that the building owner can keep the building, employing a handful of people who might otherwise not be working–at least in the city, paying real estate taxes through the lease payments, paying earnings tax. I wonder if those food trucks are really such a good idea, especially in a city that APPEARS to roll up its downtown sidewalks at 6 PM each day and typically remains quiet over the weekends. Enjoy your food-truck-served sausage sandwich, Steve, knowing that a greater percentage of food truck sales go into the profit column vs those of brick and mortar restaurants. “Accessibility” is just ONE of the problems created by food trucks.

    • JustSharing says:

      Tired of hearing this argument. It’s called business. Competition is part of it. Think of the boutiques that sell similar things and one has a a cheaper lease/taxes/overhead. Maybe your brother needs to rethink his business if one food truck is so harmful!

      • JZ71 says:

        or Walmart . . . .

      • Mark says:

        Well, then, maybe all the sit-down restaurants in downtown St. Louis should close their doors. I’m certain St. Louis would retain their fine reputation as a restaurant city if food-truck entrees were the only food available to the St Louis convention traffic. That cuisine would certainly impress the Red Hat Ladies when they hold their annual convention here.

        Brick and mortar restaurants cannot compete against food trucks. It’s as simple as that. And just because you are tired of “this argument”–doesn’t mean that local restaurants should have to compete against a greasy spoon on wheels. My brother has operated his restaurant for 23 years! I doubt he would be considered a novice. I think he’s rethinking his business. He’s thinking the county is probably his next move. Unless the city does something to exterminate the presence of these cockroach-festering grub dispensers, the small brick-and-mortar restaurant may just totally disappear from downtown St. Louis, just as Macy’s, Dillards, Walgreens, etc. are gone…or going! Is it “just business” when American shoe manufacturers go belly up because they can’t complete with China? Playing fields have to be made level.

        • Donald says:

          This is absolutely insane. Los Angeles is known as the mecca of Food Trucks…yet they are also known as the Mecca for a ton of different high scale, high class brick and mortar restaurants. LA runs a food truck event called First Friday every first friday of the month in Venice (and elsewhere), where the brick and mortar stores, restaraunts, and high quality and original food trucks are open and creating synergy for all businesses. Your brothers problems with his business are far more then a single food truck out on the street (I promise you). If your brothers food is better, establishment is cleaner, service quicker, then patrons will walk the extra 10 steps past the food truck to your brick and mortar store.

          I think your brother will also be surprised when he moves out to the county and finds that there are food trucks there as well!

          • Mark says:

            I lived in LA for 21 years. STL is not LA. LA has 15 customers for every customer seat. STL doesn’t. Food trucks don’t compete against high-scale, high class brick and mortar restaurants. Next time you see another empty storefront in STL, find a food truck and buy some comfort food.

        • backprop says:

          I wouldn’t go quite that far but I see your point. Food trucks basically use a public good – the sidewalk – as their queuing, ordering, and dining area, and then further rely on public facilities like trash cans and sometimes restrooms. Normal businesses have to lease square footage in which to operate, whereas food trucks simply use public space. I’m not arguing against the concept or execution of food trucks, but it is rather a double standard that food trucks can set up shop on a random sidewalk, something that, say, a clothing retailer would not be allowed to do.

          • moe says:

            Actually that is not true….the new fad for trucks are small retail boutiques. It’s a great way for start ups to gain footing and a customer base. Food trucks are governed by sanitation laws just like restaurants (with some minor differences)….if one is a greasy spoon, then call it in. There are a hundred different advantages/disadvantages that could be discussed, but it doesn’t matter. Brick and mortars will either adapt, rise to the challenge, or fail. But the first step to failure is to be complacent and blame everything else, instead of acknowledging that the playing field has changed and modify the business plan accordingly. Maybe your brother would do well to get his own food truck.

          • backprop says:

            I’m not talking about a retail clothing truck (I’m aware of the one in StL). I’m talking about a clothing retailer that just wants to set up shop on a sidewalk or public street. Basically, the “trucks” are given special leeway to operate their businesses entirely on public right of way. Try to set up your own shop on a downtown sidewalk and see how well that goes down.

          • Mark says:

            Your reply has to be one of the more ignorant posts you have ever made. Think about what you stated–essentially that a businessman with legitimate overhead expenses has to compete against a truck driver with a grille and refrigerator! HOW IGNORANT ARE YOU, ANYWAY? If things don’t change, St. Louis will be absent several small, LEGITIMATE restaurants–and in the wake will leave more empty storefront space, which will add to the waste land that downtown STL is becoming.

          • moe says:

            Not ignorant at all thank you. Realistic. If you think that food trucks are going away or that somehow banning food trucks is the answer to keeping your brother’s restaurant in business, then we’ll see him on Kitchen Nightmares. But hey, don’t ask the question of the customer: why are you patronizing the food truck and not walking 15 feet (or whatever) into my brother’s restaurant?

    • JustSharingToo says:

      I don’t spend my lunch money at downtown food trucks for just this reason.

  3. Bob says:

    Steve, I think your post is ignorant. I understand that you and others with disabilities have a hard time utilizing food trucks in the example you outlined above. Is it fair to ruin or halt an event for a small minority though? I can’t dunk a basketball, but I’m not complaining to organized basketball leagues that it’s unfair and that they should lower the rim for me. My point is not to tell you to screw off because you are handicapped. I wish you had just as easy of a time using these services as everyone else. I don’t think it’s fair to ban events or restrict business though. There’s a lot of things I can’t do, but that’s life.

    • Really? You’re calling my post ignorant? That’s rich. I’m not handicapped, I’m disabled. Learn the difference before saying others are ignorant. Prior to the ADA the disabled had to e placed in facilities because it was neary impossible to function outside of them. Thanks to the diligence of many before me that has changed, but far too many obstacles remain.

      Largely this is about making the organizers aware of the problem as they may not realize a problem exists. I don’t want to cancel such events, I want to attend such events.

      • Mark says:

        Steve after reading this post and some of your other recent posts, I believe that you are out of line asking that society try and correct every public facility that is not built to accommodate the disabled. I have no issue with designing in these features where practical and cost efficient, but not to accommodate so few at so great expense. I don’t see that being able to access food trucks as some sort of constitutional right and I am sure that if you were to ask for assistance from either the vender or their customers that you would get it. But to ask that trucks be redesigned with very expensive accommodations to facilitate you being able to roll up to the window to order makes no sense at all. You have obviously gotten very used to an overlay permissive society where people are afraid to say no to the disabled, minorities, or other special interest groups and as a result feel no shame in asking for such an outrageous request. On behalf of an unspoken majority, my replay is no, but if you need help ordering I would be glad to help.

        • Would you have told an African-American in 1987 they were out of line for expecting to use the same bathroom or drinking fountain as whites? FYI: 1987 is 23 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

          • Fozzie says:

            Linking food trucks and the Civil Rights Act is lunacy.

          • No, someone saying I’m out of line for expecting society to follow the ADA 23 years after Bush signed it into law is lunacy.

          • Eric says:

            So your argument is not that the ADA is moral, it’s that the ADA is the law and the law must be followed no matter what. That argument has a bad history, you know. In another context it is known as the “Nuremberg defense”.

          • Fozzie says:

            When you get a fire hose turned on you when trying to order a gyro, then you you bring up food trucks and the Civil Rights Act in the same sentence.

            Your advocacy for the disabled is occasionally commendable, but you often suffer from a complete lack of perspective.

            File lack of food truck access as “Sometimes Life is Not Fair.”

          • There have been many civil rights efforts since 1963 that didn’t involve a firehose being turned on protestors.

          • JZ71 says:

            “Linking food trucks and the Civil Rights Act” may be lunacy, just like linking building design and the Civil Rights Act, but it’s the law we need to live with until it gets changed. It’s a clumsy way to address some very real problems – one doesn’t choose their race or disability – but the lack a true “approval” process, the expectation that all existing facilities must be improved to meet some fuzzy standard and the reliance on a complaint-driven enforcement process all combine to create a situation where perfection can never be achieved and someone will always be inconvenienced or offended. Add in that the range of “disabilities” continues to expand (obesity, autism, old age) and you create a situation where the lawyers are the only ones with a “guarantee” . . . .

          • Improving local, state, & national building to address more issues covered by the ADA, such as connections to public sidewalks, would be a good place to start.

          • Eric says:

            It doesn’t cost extra money to let a black person use the bathroom/fountain.

          • And it doesn’t cost any extra to park the trucks so the disabled can access them from level payment rather than grass!

          • Eric says:

            I’m totally in favor of parking food trucks away from the grass. I’m not in favor of cancelling entire events because this was not done (although if you read the article, it seems disabled access was not the main reason for cancellation).

            By the way, the windows of food trucks are very high up, well above eye level of someone in a wheelchair. This makes it difficult to see what is offered and make an order. Do you therefore think food trucks should be banned entirely? Wouldn’t the ADA require that?

          • Many are looking at the issue of the service windows. This can be solved by where the truck locates their menu. As with where the trucks park, it is up to people like me to make as many aware as possible that potential problems for some can occur. As for the service windows, some are worse than others.

          • JZ71 says:

            Some are worse, ALL are in violation of the 34″ maximum height requirement that brick-and-mortar restaurants must meet. Picking and choosing which requirements are absolutes (just because you like the concept of food trucks) points out the challenge of expecting every facility to meet the needs of every potential disability (mobility, visual, hearing, etc.) at all times.

          • The window height is a moot point when the truck is accessed across a grassy surface.

          • JZ71 says:

            But it IS an important point when the vehicle is accessed via a paved surface! I’m 6′-2″, I end up looking up into many food trucks, and I’ve seen the challenges many “vertically challenged” patrons experience, to say nothing of people in chairs. (The trucks are also workplaces, where it would be impossible for people for many people with disabilities to work.) I agree, placing the service window(s) facing the grass is a poor decision. But if you’re going to be a stickler on being able to roll up, why not be a stickler on being able to reach up, as well?! Much like low-floor buses, it’s possible to design low-floor food trucks. Yes, it would cost more and create more barriers to entry, but it’s not an insurmountable design problem. And since food trucks are stationary while serving, it wouldn’t be that difficult to figure out a ramp system that would function much like the ramps that provide access to temporary stages – http://www.stageright.com/view_product~pid~29.asp – but hey, that wouldn’t fit with your narrative. My point is the hypocrisy. I support improving access for all, but that includes focusing on ALL aspects, not just the convenient ones! It appears that you’re more than willing to ignore one blatant violation, just so long as the trucks are encouraged to show up in your perfect urban environment . . .

          • To my knowledge, the design standards haven’t caught up with mobile access. Besides food trucks, you have others such as mobile health trucks.

          • And you’ve demonstrated your narrative. I fully acknowledge that my disability gives me a different perspective than others. My point is those who craft the design guidelines haven’t weighed in on mobile trucks (food, otherwise) yet. Until then food truck operators and event organizers should give thought to where the trucks are parked.
            If a person can reach thr truck but the window is too high, the worker inside can step out briefly to accommodate that person. If the truck is 75 feet away they can’t participate.

          • Tommy G. says:

            I think all food trucks should be immediately shut down and fined retroactively because they don’t comply with ADA requirements, and they should be FORCED to make all upgrades regardless of cost to lower serving windows, including but not limited to lowering the floor height of the kitchens. AND EVERY FOOD TRUCK SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO BE FITTED WITH A MOBILE RAMP THAT WOULD G U A R A N T E E ACCESS REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THEY ARE PARKED ON ASPHALT OR GRASS. AND………………………. all foodtrucks should be required to be equipped with separate ADA compliant men’s and women’s toilet rooms, complete with hyraulic lifts or ramps to provide access. Or they can be located on-grade, equipped with sewage ejector pumps to handle waste removal.

            Why? The answer is simple, MOE! To level the playing field~! Brick and mortar restaurants have to do all of these things…..and more!

            How about them apples, MOE?

          • mark says:

            No one is advocating racism here except you. I reject your
            trying to link my objection to your unreasonable requests as being akin to racism or somehow anti humanist. As I have already said somehow you have seemed to have gotten the impression that everyone should bow down to your absurd requests and not dare to raise an objection. People like you are your own worst enemy, instead of advocating for changes that are reasonable and make sense, you instead grandstand for foolish and costly ideas such as this which benefit few and raise costs unnecessarily for everyone and thereby limit choice for everyone. You can choose to be militant about advocating for disabled rights, but when you suggest foolish ideas like this, how can I or anyone else really take you seriously? And forget about trying to bully me with your words, I am going to treat you like I would anyone else despite your handicap, if you come up with stupid suggestions expect to be called on them.

          • Hmm, foolish ideas like consider parking the food trucks in another way so they’re accessed from the concrete driveway? How’s that costly?

          • Tommy G. says:

            The sky’s the limit with you when it comes to brick and mortar! Tear down a perfectly good building just to move it closer to the curb! Looks better that way! Put in a ramp “over here” when the ramp “over there” is adequate–but technically not “equal”. Tear out toilet room walls to provide larger spaces to accommodate disabled fixtures and clearances? Provide wheel-in showers to accommodate the disabled after a gym workout? Install elevators to accommodate maybe 1 handicapped customer a week? Where’s the ‘EQUALITY’ when it comes to restrictions governing mobile restaurants vs brick and mortar restaurants? Do you think for a moment that upgrading a brick and mortar restroom in an existing brick/mortar restauant was any less costly than putting one on a mobile gypsy van? Do you think that tearing out a perfectly good water fountain and replacing it with ADA approved was FREE? Or building a ramp to enter a brick/mortar restaurant? IT ALL COSTS MONEY, STEVE. The brick and mortar restaurant owner has to pay for it, but the gypsy van owner can let it slip by. Piss on the lawn–no one will care! You advocate leveling the playing field when it comes to your disability (make it equally convenient/inconvenient for the disabled and abled) but for some reason you see no apparent reason to “level playing fields” in other regards.

            I’m one who feels that ADA upgrades are needed and are worth the expense. Obviously, you do too! But don’t you think equality should be required across the board?

            Racist? Where’s the racism? I don’t have a racist bone in my body! I was being sarcastic when I suggested the ADA compliant toilet rooms on the gypsy vans. But come to think of it, SOMEONE HAS TO PROVIDE TOILETS FOR THOSE USING MOBILE RESTAURANTS.

            You like the “looks” of gypsy restaurants running around the streets of your perfect urban environment. Add to it a streetcar that will become a haven for criminals and will be avoided by locals

          • All this tearing out makes me guess you’ve built stuff before without consulting a design professional and you had to start over when authorities discovered you didn’t comply with the building code, not ADA.

      • Eric says:

        I just looked up “handicapped” in the dictionary. The definition was “Physically or mentally disabled”. So please explain what the difference between handicapped and disabled is, there doesn’t seem to be one.

        • “The most commonly cited definitions are those provided by the World Health Organization (1980) in The International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps:

          Impairment: any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.

          Disability: any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.

          Handicap: a disadvantage for a given individual that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal” http://www.pediatrics.emory.edu/divisions/neonatology/dpc/Impairment%20MX.html

  4. Michael says:

    I thought the same thing at Food Truck Fridays At Tower Grove park. They all back up to the street. They should move across the street so their windows have about 15 feel of pavement in front of them. Car traffic couldn’t get through but that’s ok by me. Downtown, there’s still room for everyone but I think food trucks should be a minimum distance from an existing restaurant. They should also have to pay the BID.

    • Eric says:

      On street parking spots and sidewalk space are publicly owned areas. Yet they are typically provided for free or at below cost to private individuals. This is a giant unjustified subsidy which is provided to drivers, food trucks, and others. Food trucks are a useful service, but for fair competition with restaurants, they should have to pay somehow for the space they are using.

      • Licensed food trucks do pay for the privilege of selling in the city.

        • Eric says:

          How much?

        • moe says:

          Steve…whats the point of arguing? I relate to where you are coming from….equal and realistic access to those handicapped. But there are some here that are going to argue on the “maximum effort” confusing it with minimum effort put into following ADA. They will also blame food trucks for restaurants going out of business, but yet fail to ask the restaurant why. What does a food truck offer that bricks and mortar does not? (it’s usually a very limited menu and very limited service btw folks.) And then some seem to think that this argument is the same. But it isn’t folks. This isn’t about brick and mortar vs. wheels, but about wheels being ADA compliant.

    • JZ71 says:

      The “reason” the trucks in Tower Grove Park face the curb / grass is that the road remains open to traffic during the event – wouldn’t want people standing in the road, blocking traffic and/or getting hit by vehicles. Why it remains open, I’m not sure – if it were closed, your idea would make a lot of sense. Then, again, leaving the road open makes it easier for everyone, and especially those with disabilities, to get closer to the event.

  5. JZ71 says:

    Another part of the equation (where event organizers locate food trucks) has to do with making the event “successful”. I’m sure one reason Sauce Magazine likes having Food Truck Friday in Tower Grove Park is because its a park, and not a parking lot. While you don’t have a problem finding a place to sit, most of us like to have a place to sit down and enjoy our truck cuisine. To provide better access to food trucks in non-urban (suburban, rural and park) areas would typically require either using surface parking lots or closing streets – traditional sidewalks, if they exist at all, are usually separated from the adjacent streets by a tree lawn. And the challenge with many surface parking lots is that they lack shade and aren’t very conducive to or comfortable for consuming the food that you just purchased – in “improving” the accessibility, you can very easily be discouraging potential customers who won’t find the venue, itself, to be appealing (been there, done that, won’t be back).

    • All I’m asking for is thought about location. It isn’t uncommon for some of the side roads in Tower Grove Park to be closed while the main east-west road remains open. And while I have a place to sit, I don’t have a built in table to set my food on while I eat.

      • moe says:

        One thing I don’t understand is why our parks lack benches and tables. Yes I know that at Tower Grove and Forest Park, there are ‘some’ tables. Spaced quite a bit of distance a part from each other. Yet these are PARKS. Shouldn’t we want people to come in spur of the moment t enjoy a few minutes of nature without have to request a pavilion or section weeks in advance. To me, there should be at least 100 maybe 150 more tables spread throughout Tower Grove Park….and 100’s more in Forest….you get the idea.

  6. JZ71 says:

    If you’re not happy with these food trucks, check out the upcoming Brewers Heritage Festival in Forest Park – the entire event is held in large tents on the grass ball fields. Hopefully it doesn’t end up too muddy, as it has in some years past . . . . http://www.stlbrewfest.com/


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