“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things!” Food Trucks Now, Lexington

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Years in the making, Lexington’s Food Truck Pilot Program is almost ready to hit the streets — after months of spirited debate at LFUCG and within the food truck work group, with all parties represented. Brick and mortars, food trucks, residential neighborhoods, the Parking Authority, council members, citizens, and one retired police captain have all had their exhaustive say. (At First Reading on May 23, the retiree colorfully told the Council that food trucks were inconsistent with the “luxury image” downtown is trying to perpetuate, and he fully expected that the “operation of food trucks would appear to be counterproductive to the types of luxury businesses that Lexington is trying to entice to its downtown area,” suggesting that they would run off prospects “such as the exceptional 21C boutique hotel.” (21C’s Proof on Main in Louisville operates its own gelato cart, @proofgelato.) Council Member Steve Kay blogged his reservations about an early iteration of the proposed pilot in May, and presented his concerns at first reading in May.

The food trucks rolled up to another hurdle last week, when the Lexington Parking Authority stipulated that food trucks parking in metered spots downtown as part of the Pilot would be limited to two hours, with no option for extending to four. The food truck community and food truck supporters within the Council pointed out that two hours would not allow time to set up, serve, break down, and clean up.

At Tuesday’s worksession earlier this week, Council Member Shevawn Akers proposed an amendment to the Pilot that would shift the starting hours to 5 pm (LexPark does not monitor Lexington’s metered spaces on nights and weekends.) Several council members asked for clarification, with council member Chris Ford pointing out, “all I know is what I’ve read in the newspaper.” The amended pilot will be presented at tonight’s Council Meeting for first reading, and the Council could opt to give it second reading as well.

As rewritten, the proposed pilot would not be subject to LexPark enforcement. LFUCG ceded parking enforcement over to the Parking Authority and LexPark in 2008. (Enforcement was formerly handled by Lexington Police.)  The Parking Authority has a wildly unpopular job. No one is ever happy to see their LexPark enforcers coming —armed, as they are, with tickets, boots, and tow trucks. They ditched the free night-and-weekend parking for the Kentucky Theatre at the helix garage (now fully automated and human-less). At the Council Work Session debating (for hours) whether or not the Pilot would even advance to first reading, their staff stressed, at several points, how flexible they were directed to be (often provoking laughter within chambers). As unpopular as they are, as an entity, downtown advocates point out that the semi-privatization effort has cleaned up some of downtown’s parking messes and funded much-needed garage improvements. Their application of the two-hour restriction handed the food truck hot potato back to Council, where it will bounce around more this evening.

This morning, the Bluegrass Food Truck Association announced its support of the modified Food Truck Pilot Program that will be presented at tonight’s Council session.

Is it perfect? No. Will it anticipate and address every potential outcome and consequence, intended and unintended? No. It’s a pilot. A pilot is the next appropriate step in the process. Healthy debate is a vital step — the two-year anniversary of the formation of Lexington’s Itinerant Merchant Task Force was April 20. Two years is sufficient. In 2009, the city shut down Limestone for construction with considerably less debate than this. Downtown will ultimately be elevated for everyone as our vibrant dining corridors evolve and diversify — a rising tide lifts all boats. So, unless the proposed pilot includes fine print that involves boiling small children in oil to make the fries — with taxpayers footing the bill for the tallow processing — it’s time for the next step.
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