«Contesting the streets Volume 18, number 1 • 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
redirection. An instantaneous reroute to step through a line or to walk around it would take less than 1 second. Pedestrians would pass a truck in approximately 3 seconds—based on Whyte (1988), who found that pedestrians on downtown streets in cities with more than 1 million residents walked at a rate of 280 to 300 feet per minute, or 5 feet per second—and adjustments to avoid collisions took fractions of seconds (Helbing et al., 2001; Whyte, 1988). When lines were long and pedestrian traffic heavy, pedestrians could be delayed by seconds as they shifted into a single-line formation or paused to enable pedestrians to come through from the other direction, and pedestrians with bicycles or trollies were also able to move through the lines with seconds delay.
The street design and common pedestrian behavior also reduced the impact of the food trucks.
The 2 to 3 feet of sidewalk space near the curb regularly had signposts, bike racks, trashcans, and planters that created a vending zone. Unless the sidewalks are crowded, pedestrians leave distance or shy away from the curb and fixed objects such as trashcans and utility posts (TRB, 2010). As a result, food truck customers would stand and wait in these spaces, and pedestrians would walk by with no disruption.
A third factor helped create compatibility between pedestrians and food truck customers. The food truck customer lines and crowds shifted in ways that reduced impact to pedestrian travel. The lines moved as people walked through and around them because the waiting customers attempted to get out of the pedestrians’ paths. In one observer’s words— As more people line up, the more diagonal in general the line gets. This is contingent, at this point, around 11:15, on how much foot traffic there is. It seems that lines have an awareness of how much foot traffic there is in general, and usually act accordingly, getting more diagonal so as to allow for the foot traffic zone to exist.
At times the lines would be perpendicular to the truck, but, at other times, an L-shaped line would run parallel to the food truck or the line would angle into the sidewalk.
Both the extensive public space research and this analysis of Chicago food trucks indicate that street vending and pedestrian travel can be compatible. Pedestrians could walk around or through the food truck lines without much trouble because pedestrians are efficient walkers, but the customers were also responsive to pedestrians, and the lines separated or moved in ways that reduced impact to pedestrian flow. In addition, existing street design created space for vending. Together, these findings suggest that cities can plan for street vending, and vendors can operate with little pedestrian delay.
Assumption 3: Specific and Complex Regulations Are Necessary Can street vending offer lessons about how to approach vending regulation and planning? Cities often begin street vending discussions from controversies that arise or in response to challenges to existing regulations. They proceed to modify existing regulations or enact new ones. This process occurs even when residents and public officials support street vending and even though it has led to the complex regulatory environment that forces vendors to work outside the law.
In the 2010s, the City of New Orleans began to pay attention to street commerce. It discussed food trucks and turned its gaze to multiple forms of vending, including those that accompanied
Sunday parades called second lines. For 9 months a year, community organizations called social aid and pleasure clubs (SA&PCs) organize afternoon parades that, for about 4 hours, wind through neighborhood streets. The SA&PC members, accompanied by live brass band music, lead the parade. The parades attract neighborhood and citywide residents who join on foot, bike, motorcycle, four wheeler, and horse, resulting in hundreds of people walking and dancing through the streets.
Second lines include planned stops at neighborhood bars, clubhouses, or other community sites where the SA&PC members enter and come out again, restarting the parade’s movement. The stops can be as short as 15 minutes, but at times they last 30 minutes or more.
Vendors join the second line selling water and beer, JELL-O shots, homemade praline candy, sweet potato pies, and other sweets. At the stops, more food and drink vendors set up. Some have catering trailers with smokers and barbeque; others sell snowballs from food trucks; and many people sell hamburgers, turkey necks, and mixed drinks from flatbeds of pickups. Few second line vendors obtain permits, however, and, when the city stated its intent to enforce vending regulations, it became clear to city officials that the vending regulations were written in a way that second line vendors could not comply. The councilmembers proposed a specific ordinance instead of reducing restrictions to enable more vending flexibility. The proposed fee would be as low as $25 and the permits would be easy to obtain. The permit, however, would also restrict the time before the event when the vendors could set up, prohibit selling alcohol, and require vendors to remove litter.
To understand the impacts of second line vending and how the proposed regulation would affect the vendors or the event, the author and a research partner participated in second lines throughout the 2014–2015 season. The season comprised 32 parades that rolled for between 2 and 4 hours each Sunday. In one case, a parade did not roll because of a problem with the permit. Each observation session included observing vending as second lines moved through city streets and watching the vendors close and leave at designated stops. In 10 observations, vendors had parked or set up before the parade arrived, and, in other cases, vendors had set up at the parade’s start.
Six observations included traveling back along the route to determine how observable the impacts were after the parade passed.
The observations showed vending had little additional spatial impact that was separate from the impact of the parades. Vendors selling unopened bottles of water, beer, and Gatorade pulled coolers that were on wagons or carts or adapted tricycles and moved along with the parade. Vendors selling sweets usually did so from baskets they carried in their hands. Vendors participated with different frequencies and, across the season, a wide variety of vendors sold fruit, potato chips, and packaged snacks from pushcarts, wagons, and tricycles. When stopped, the second line would take over the street and block traffic for its duration. The vendors who set up ahead of time parked in parking spots or on the neutral ground (or median), a common if not legal practice. Some pulled up in an intersection when the parade arrived but left as it passed. For larger parades, food vendors arrived at the first stop early to get a good spot. As the parade passed, they quickly pulled away, often to go to a stop farther along the route.
The analysis also showed that the restriction on alcohol would impede second line vending. In New Orleans, drinking alcohol in public is legal, and walking with drinks is common. During the parades, the participants would buy drinks as they continued to walk. At times there would be a
pause at the time of sale, but as often the exchange occurred without either person breaking stride.
Because the parades move, participants would have to leave the parades to enter a bar. Bars and corner stores were infrequent throughout the route, but some stops occurred at bars and in other cases where bars were nearby. In these cases, without vendors, the bars would get a greater share of drink business. Other than competition with the bars and corner stores, there was no apparent reason for the alcohol restriction.
Although litter was a visible impact from the parades, it was not clear that the proposed regulation would be effective. New Orleans has very few public trashcans and no street cleaning, and some neighborhoods have a significant number of unmaintained, abandoned properties. Litter was dealt with informally. Along the route, after the parade passed, evidence of the parade such as drink and JELL-O shot containers would remain, but it would not be notably different from litter on nearby streets. After the parade moved from a stop, in some situations, someone stayed back to pick up litter, or an abutting business or residents began to pick up litter. In most cases, within an hour (the time passed before the researchers returned to the site), the sites would not obviously look like an event had passed. Some neighborhood residents complained, however, because they cleaned the streets after a second line. Participants took numerous actions to centralize trash, such as piling bottles off the street or tossing them into the neutral ground at the base of the tree, and nearby trashcans were full and overflowing, suggesting proactive ways to reduce litter.
In this case, no agreement was reached and the city did not enact a specific second line vending regulation. Vendors continue to participate, suggesting that reducing the restrictions would have caused no new problems. Kettles (2006), Kim (2012), and Morales (2010) found that vendors organize themselves, both responding to and creating local norms and coordinating with other vendors. In this case, participants also acted in ways consistent with second line norms. This finding suggests that observing the street and talking with vendors and other participants could provide a starting point about how to reduce litter without burdening vendors with the responsibility for reducing all the impacts from the event.
A Policy Approach: Regulating Less and Planning More Municipal professionals have the opportunity to adopt a new approach to street vending. Cities can learn from ongoing vending and use this information to plan for greater compatibility among street vendors and other activities. This approach has two steps. Morales and Kettles (2009a, 2009b) have argued that, to enable street vending and public markets, right-of-way restrictions should be relaxed and zoning regulations modified. Extensive research demonstrates that vending can function well with fewer regulations.
The first step to the new approach would be to reduce the restrictions to allow street commerce in varying forms in a wide variety of places. Because public space users self-organize and are adaptable, seeking compatibility is a reasonable response and can result in narrowly tailored guidelines that enable more public space use.
The second step would be to collect evidence about real impacts from vending and to proactively design policies, such as providing more trash receptacles, to address impacts. Performance
standards can require that customer lines leave room for pedestrian flow or that vendors work a
reasonable distance from sidewalks and entrances. This approach is based on a new assumption:
that street vending can be compatible with other activities. Reducing restrictions to allow street vending of all forms and planning for street vending can reduce identified impacts and break the cycle of informal vending and uneven enforcement.
Acknowledgments The author thanks Annette Kim for her thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The Chicago food truck research was funded by the Institute for Justice.
Author Renia Ehrenfeucht is a professor and the Director of Community and Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico.
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