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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Food truck boom poses safety concerns, community leaders say

As a growing number of food trucks line the streets of Foggy Bottom, community leaders say the trucks are routinely flouting city parking regulations.

As a growing number of food trucks line the streets of Foggy Bottom – including parts of campus – community leaders say the trucks are routinely flouting city parking regulations.

Members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local governing group, said at a meeting this month that the large number of registered food trucks is creating overcrowding and traffic problems in prime business spots in the area. Commissioners said the trucks often block crosswalks and obstruct fire lanes, raising safety concerns.

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs – a city agency responsible for regulating food truck licensing – restricts the trucks from parking in residential neighborhoods within 40 feet of a crosswalk and within 10 feet of a fire hydrant, according to agency regulations.

“If we can address what the concerns are, it’ll be successful for everybody.”

Food truck vendors protested these regulations when they were proposed in 2012, but they were still implemented a year later, according to the DCRA website.

At the ANC’s January meeting, commissioners said residents often complain about food trucks posing traffic hazards and parking unlawfully, especially on H and L streets.

Commissioner Florence Harmon suggested penalizing food truck licenses for owners who repeatedly disobey parking violations, including issuing license suspensions.

“Maybe suspension’s too drastic, but it’s going to be harder for you to renew it – or if you repeatedly violate parking and noise and safety regulations, you’re cited for it,” Harmon said.

The ANC tabled debate on her proposed solutions, but commissioners said they plan to work with the DCRA to draft new resolutions, potentially creating a system where consistent traffic infractions impact owners’ licenses. There is no timetable to implement a system yet because the ANC is waiting on the DCRA to initiate a conversation, commissioners said.

Student leaders said food trucks create concerns about pedestrian safety on H Street because the combination of the trucks, two-way traffic and students crossing between Kogan Plaza and District House creates a safety headache. The ANC voted to support adding a crosswalk to the street in March in part because food trucks impede students’ sight of approaching cars as they cross.

“As people jaywalk on H Street, they can’t see around the food trucks that block their view, which often leads to a close encounter with a speeding car or bike,” James Harnett, a sophomore vying for an ANC seat, said in an email.

Harnett said the ANC should replicate proposals that other cities use to balance food truck needs with pedestrian safety.

The number of food trucks on H Street has been growing over the last several years. Business boomed in 2016 before food vendors in the basement of District House opened. On one afternoon last week, at least eight trucks lined the one-block stretch of H Street between 21st and 22nd streets.

Commissioner Rebecca Coder said that in her jurisdiction, which spans from 23rd to 26th streets north of Pennsylvania Avenue, food trucks create traffic barriers by parking too close to the School Without Walls at Francis Stevens on N Street, creating obstacles for school buses.

“The neighborhood really appreciates what the food trucks bring as far as more affordable, diverse food options that are available,” she said. “If we can address what the concerns are, it’ll be successful for everybody.”

The number of food trucks operating in D.C. has surged in recent years as the trucks have ingrained themselves in city culture, parking in commercial hubs and major pedestrian centers. While there were only about 150 food trucks in D.C. in 2014, that number has now grown to 245, according to the Washingtonian.

Food truck owners said the D.C. government should cap the number of trucks licensed to vend on city streets, citing current congestion issues.

Josh Warner, the co-founder of the CapMac food truck, usually parked near Franklin Square or Farragut Square, said the number of food trucks on H Street has grown to the point that some of the permanent vendors don’t leave room for trucks that visit campus periodically.

“On H Street, we used to be able to pull up, find a parking space, or at least try to save one, any day of the week,” he said. “Now it’s nearly impossible and we haven’t been able to be on campus as much as we were a year and a half or two years ago, which more importantly has put our relationship with students on hold.”

Some parking spots are distributed through a lottery system, launched in 2013, in which the DCRA schedules a different parking spot for every food truck on each day of the week for a month. The spots are redistributed at the end of the month.

Each truck receives two to three “off” days, during which it is not assigned a spot and must find parking on its own, according to the DCRA lottery results.

Warner said if a truck doesn’t receive a lottery spot, parking can be very competitive.

“Other than the lottery spots, there aren’t many where you can just pull up to and vend, so with that you’ve got to get down there pretty early to beat out other guys who got first come, first serve,” Warner said. “That two blocks between 20th and 18th is very difficult. You have trucks circling the block around 9:15, just waiting to slide in at 9:30 on the dot.”

Warner said his CapMac trucks operate “by the book” and have not received tickets for violating DCRA regulations.

“If we park in a space we pay the meter,” he said. “If we stay past that point and get a ticket, sure, we pay it. Do I do it on purpose and eat the price of the ticket? No. Have I heard of a lot of trucks doing it? Absolutely.”

“All our food trucks, they abide by the DCRA code and they’re food truck vendors.”

Steve Hanifi, the owner of Tasty Kabob, typically situated near Kogan Plaza, said parking is an innate problem for the business, but the DCRA’s lottery system decreased the “free-for-all competition” between food trucks to find parking.

“They already know where they’re going the month ahead, and so it’s already kind of chosen out by DCRA, which helps with that whole parking nuisance that was happening earlier when we first started,” he said.

Hanifi said his trucks don’t receive tickets for parking unlawfully, and he hasn’t received any complaints from students about the truck’s location on H Street.

“All our food trucks, they abide by the DCRA code and they’re food truck vendors, so all our employees are well aware of the laws and locations through the day,” he said.

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