Midtown East Food Truck Situation is Worse Than We Thought
On Monday we mentioned that a number of Midtown East trucks had been kicked out of their spots, and hoped that it was just some passing phase and not a concerted effort to rid the area of trucks entirely. After the Midtown West crackdown last month, many trucks sought refuge to the East making Park and Lexington in the 40s and 50s the last place for Midtown Lunchers to go for their food truck fix. Well it looks like that migration didn’t go unnoticed, and now the crackdown has spread to the other half of Midtown.
According to a number of sources, the East Midtown Partnership has been going around with a map to let food trucks know that they will no longer be allowed to park in the area between 48th street and 63rd street, Madison Ave. to 2nd Ave. It looks as if Papa Perrone has been permanently kicked out the spot he has been parking for the past 3 years (on 55th btw. Mad+Park), Comme Ci Comme Ca was kicked off of 55th & Lex today, and Crisp on Wheels, Mexicue, Korilla and others have been having problems in this area over the past week or two. We reached out to the East Midtown Partnership and got this response from their President Rob Byrnes:
“As you no doubt know, Business Improvement Districts do not make the law. Nor do our security officers have police officer status. Therefore, we cannot ‘prohibit’ food trucks. We do, however, advise food trucks when they violate the law by vending from metered or otherwise illegal curbside spots. At that point, the choice of compliance is up to them. They can (and occasionally do) shrug and say, “Whatever,” and we cannot do a thing…. It’s been an interesting experience over the past week or so as we’ve increased our efforts to ensure that food truck operators comply with the law. “
But that law has been on the book for decades, so I asked what has changed recently to cause the business district to increase their efforts.
There was no single trigger. First is a question of manpower. Unlike most BIDs, we have a large district (the equivalent of roughly 10 miles of curb and sidewalk spread out over 150+ block-faces) and a small public safety staff (at the most, I have six officers out on the street at any given time.)
Next is a matter of priorities. Since June, 2002, our security officers have largely focused on food carts and general merchandize vendors, inspecting the area for safety problems, distribution of information to businesses and residences, and acting as public ambassadors (i.e., giving directions, offering information, etc.)
That’s the set-up. Now I need to correct one misimpression. Over the years, we have definitely had interactions with food trucks, although mostly over sanitation issues and in cases in which trucks sat on a spot (in one case, for over a month.) However, since we cannot enforce the law, we are dependent on NYPD back-up; and the police – through much of that time – weren’t sure of the legality. (That is not a criticism of the police; we were in the same position.)
And THEN word came down that peddling was illegal from metered spaces, via that ancient law you referenced. With that knowledge, we slowly ramped up our efforts. However, I should note that the area didn’t have a huge problem, so it was integrated with many other priorities.
That brings us up to the end of the summer, when life seemed much simpler… The food truck crackdown came to central Midtown (especially in the Sixth/Seventh Avenue area). As the police enforced the no-vending-from-a-meter law, the trucks dispersed… and many made a very public point of Tweeting that they were coming to East Midtown. Without exaggeration, within the span of a few weeks this district went from having a few occasional food trucks to having two or three on many individual blocks.
In short, we suddenly had a problem. And that problem came with an increasing number of complaints, especially (but not exclusively) from brick-and-mortar restaurants that virtually disappeared when Winnebago-sized trucks pulled in front of their façade and not only underpriced them, but attracted crowds that made their sidewalks impassable. Not to mention smoke and odor complaints from other businesses and restaurants who had the privilege of hosting a food truck right outside their door.
And that brings us to, well… today. Sure, there have been a few trucks who’ve found quiet, unobtrusive spots and have never drawn complaints. But we can’t and won’t play favorites, which is why our efforts seem so abrupt and far-reaching. Those efforts are, in a way, a mirror reaction to the abrupt increase of the number and visibility of food trucks in the district. The food truck situation dramatically changed, so we had to dramatically change our priorities.
Gourmet food truck advocates will likely point to the first part as proof that this whole situation has been caused by the recent court decision which upheld the law banning vendors from parking at meters. But I think it’s worth looking at the second part, where the East Midtown BID admits that they don’t necessarily mind trucks “who’ve found quiet, unobtrusive spots and have never drawn complaints”, because in the end nobody wants to put people out of business. Or rid NYC of street food entirely And even though the law has been on the books forever, cops would prefer not to enforce it. They have better things to do.
Complaints are the real culprit here. Complaints that start with the brick and mortar businesses, and make their way up the chain until the cops have no choice but to come down on everybody. Clearly the food trucks are going to need to find a way to operate without drawing complaints, or risk being kept out of Midtown forever.