It’s a hot, almost-summer lunchtime in Portland’s East End.
But this lunchtime, on June 15, was different: the first day food trucks that had been using the Eastern Promenade began operating on Cutter Street, in a parking area previously used for East End Beach vehicle and boat trailer parking.
Around 12:30, dozens of people milled about the semicircle formed by the trucks, and dozens more either sat on the hill enjoying the view, sunbathing, playing with children – and munching on everything from sushi to pizza.
Logan Abbey, owner of the roast beef sandwich truck George’s North Shore, said it was already a very busy day, and most of the trucks had only been there a short while.
But while business was good for a Wednesday, he still had reservations about the move down the hill.
“I still hope we can come to some kind of resolution,” Abbey said, that will satisfy city officials, Munjoy Hill residents, and the food truck operators.
Cutter Street will work for the trucks that received permits, he said, but not for others that didn’t apply and would have wanted to.
The decision to use Cutter Street was made by interim City Manager Danielle West, who initially limited a permit lottery to just 10 trucks, which left some longtime Eastern Promenade trucks out of the mix. After protests by truck operators and their supporters, West said the city determined there was enough space in the parking lot, so all 14 applicants got no-cost permits for this year’s pilot project, which lasts until Nov. 15.
Abbey also said he didn’t like the way the trucks were organized, since they had to place generators next to generators, creating unusually loud conditions. He also noted there was no shade for patrons, other than at a few picnic tables under nearby trees.
But perhaps his biggest complaint was about the inconvenience of getting down to the parking lot.
“A lot of my customers are older, they don’t want to walk down a hill to get here,” Abbey said.
Abbey’s concerns are easy to comprehend: the parking area is loud, it’s hot, and unless you’re driving, it’s a long way down. The din of generators running to power up to 14 trucks is constant, and while every day won’t be sunny and 80 degrees, the heat is magnified by the parking lot surface.
There is also no easy path straight down the hill from the Eastern Promenade. Pedestrians either have to cut across the hillside or take a long way around via the sidewalk where Cutter Street meets the Eastern Promenade. And of course, they also have to walk back up.
Access isn’t any easier for drivers. There’s very little customer parking on Cutter Street, so cars on Wednesday ended up circling the parking lot where the trucks are parked. An overflow lot is limited to municipal parking and boat trailers, and there is already a shortage of parking near the boat launch.
Complaints from residents about traffic congestion and a shortage of parking on the Eastern Promenade were among the reasons the city forced the trucks to move, but on this picturesque Wednesday, there was virtually no parking available even without the food trucks on the street.
Not every food truck employee, however, thought the new arrangement was bad. Anne Trapp, who works at Gelato Fiasco, said the first day on Cutter Street was a success and was already a better day than the Wednesday a week earlier.
Trapp said it was much easier to find parking in the semicircle, and joked that the only problem with the new location was a selfish one.
“The only drawback is personal,” she said. “I can’t see the boats anymore.”