In the year since the city council approved controversial legislation to encourage Seattle's burgeoning street food scene, the number of food trucks trolling our streets has exploded while sidewalk vendors have dramatically declined, according to numbers released by the Seattle Department of Transportation, which licenses the vendors.
In the last 12 months, the number of licensed food trucks vending curbside on Seattle streets has jumped from zero to 15, with another three permits pending. Meanwhile, the number of city-licensed sidewalk vendors has declined from 35 between August 2010 and 2011, to only 23 today—a 34 percent drop from last year.
So what gives?
One possible explanation is that new vendors are setting up shop in private parking lots, which is perfectly legal (it was the only route for food trucks prior to last August) and doesn't require shelling out approximately $1,000 in city license fees.
But that doesn't seem to account for the 34 percent drop in food cart vendors—after all, the flood of new food trucks is apparent to anyone who routinely walks around downtown or in South Lake Union. The same can't be said for food carts, whose visibility hasn't increased dramatically. I have a call out to the King County Department of Health—which permits all food vendors in Seattle, regardless of whether they've applied for a city license—to see if I can get a more accurate representation of how the city's street food scene has changed over the past year.
But, if the cart numbers hold up, it could signify that the concessions the city council made last year to brick and mortar restaurants—limiting sidewalk vendors to two per block face and outside of a 50-foot safety zone from any restaurant opening, for example—have discouraged entrepreneurs from setting up shop on Seattle sidewalks, where we want them.