Evanston lakefront (RoundTable photo)

Evanston City Council Member Devon Reid moved pushcarts ahead of food trucks for increased use in the lakefront area in a revised proposal at the July 12 Evanston City Council meeting.

Mr. Reid, 8th Ward, announced at the start of the discussion that he would drop food trucks from his original proposal. That proposal had called for the City to lift restrictions on both food trucks and pushcarts in the lakefront area, where the City currently issues only three licenses for their use.

In proposing the change, Mr. Reid referred to a letter the City received from Wandering Café, an Evanston-based business and the only food bike company to current serve the lakefront.

On its website, wanderingcafe.org, Wandering Café bills itself as “Evanston’s first chef inspired, pedal powered, mobile kitchen.

“Unlike food trucks,” it goes on to say, “our low carbon footprint allows us to bring our product to the streets in an environmentally responsible way.”

“They’re not a food truck – that’s people with a bike,” Mr. Reid said. “And they ride around; they bring their food and they sell it to folks; and so this would allow that style of food vendors at the lakefront and at parks,” he said.

Mr. Reid’s call for opening up the area to food trucks had drawn criticism from some lakefront users, who raised concern about the added exhaust fumes and noise they would bring into the area.

Several Council Members and community members had also raised concerns that lifting restrictions on the number of food trucks and pushcarts in the area ran counter to the recommendations of the City’s master plan for the lakefront. The plan, adopted in 2008, sought to limit commercial activity on the lakefront and supported “passive enjoyment” there.

In reacting to Mr. Reid’s proposed change, Council Members expressed mixed views, with concerns about a litter problem at the lakefront entering into the discussion.

Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, spoke in support of the change. “I’m sensitive to the idea of trucks on the lakefront, especially if they operate their generators the entire time in order to provide the food,” he said. “But I think pushcarts are a good first step as we evaluate other options.”

Council Member Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, indicated she continued to have concerns.

“I appreciate the fact that this would address the big environmental impact of food trucks,” she said. “But … we’re working toward commercialization of the lakefront, and  we still are likely to have a litter problem. So I am afraid I’m still opposed.”

Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, said he was happy to support Mr. Reid’s amendment.

“In fact, I would like to work towards food trucks on the lakefront,” he said, “but I was uncomfortable fast-tracking it [introducing and approving the item at the same meeting] and voting in favor of that tonight, because I think it needs some more discussion and community input.

“But I’m happy to support the amendment to allow just a pushcart as long as we can legally define pushcart,” he said. “I think there’s enough time to perfect the language to give us something to vote on in two weeks.”

Council Member Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, suggested that acting on the proposal should not be tied to solving the trash issue.

“If we’re going to use that as an excuse for not doing anything, that doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Fixing the trash problem could have to do with other factors, such as incorrect predictions about crowds in the area or staffing, he said.

Also, he said it is not fair to assume that if food trucks came in, the City would then have a trash problem. The restaurants with such businesses would have “an economic incentive for trash to not be everywhere, near their places where they are,” he said.

As for commercialization of the lakefront area, Mr. Suffredin said he understood some of the historical and present concerns raised over the issue.

He noted, though, that neighboring Wilmette, for instance, has a catering business that operates at Gillson Park and also charges for parking in the area. “There are a lot of things – a lot of things – that other communities do that may or may not be things that we want to do, but they’re not like crazy ideas out of nowhere,” he said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

One reply on “Council Member’s Revised Proposal Favors More Pushcarts on Lakefront”

  1. Downtown Wilmette on a Tuesday eve was abuzz with alfresco diners at 5 or 6 different establishments. Free street parking and easy to maneuver. This is a far cry from downtown Evanston where parking fees and limited outdoor dining are the rule. Places like The Huddle, Andy’s Custard, Barnes and Nobles and even Panera, now all closed, used to keep our streets filled with people and activity. Evanston could stand to look at its neighbors to the north with regard to beach AND downtown business activity.

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