Portland tells Eastern Prom food trucks to hit the road

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Portland diners accustomed to patronizing food trucks lined up on the Eastern Promenade will soon have to go a little farther east to get their favorite fixes.   

After considering complaints about noise, trash, and traffic from Munjoy Hill residents and public park advocates, interim City Manager Danielle West gave food truck operators only about another six weeks to use the scenic street.

Food truck generator
A standby generator provides power to a food truck on the Eastern Promenade in Portland. Nearby residents say food trucks produce too much noise and trash. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

By June 15, the trucks will have to move down to a parking lot at the end of Cutter Street, below the promenade, which has historically been used by vehicles with boat trailers for access to the East End Beach boat launch.

West, who does not need approval from the City Council, told councilors Cutter Street was “an option favored by the vast majority of the public that provided public comment.”

The move to Cutter Street was not favored by the council Sustainability and Transportation Committee, where the discussion began more than a month ago.

Opponents of the move have said the Eastern Prom is a good spot for people to gather in the public park and noted those who are fortunate enough to own property on Munjoy Hill don’t also own the park or its views.

West called her decision a pilot program that will be “evaluated throughout the season in order to find opportunities to improve upon or revise it in 2023.” It will initially allocate 10 first-come-first-serve permits for the trucks on Cutter Street, with additional permits to be issued by lottery if there is excess demand.

The pilot program will run until Oct. 15 and will not charge for permits this year, although the city may consider fees in the future, West said.

Food trucks can operate year-round, and while the Eastern Promenade is one of the city’s most iconic tourist destinations, only a few trucks operate there in the winter. However, as outdoor dining became more popular during the coronavirus pandemic, there have been as many as 15 food trucks on the promenade at peak times.

“While the sense of community and fun this activity introduced was positive, it also resulted in excessive trash, root compaction of park trees and turf, excessive idling and generator use, loss of parking, noise, and other quality-of-life issues,” West said in a memo to the council.

An alternative West rejected would have revised the Eastern Promenade traffic flow for part of the year and reduced on-street parking to give the trucks more space to operate. It also would have included making electrical power available to the trucks along the prom, which city staff said would be easier to do than routing power down Cutter Street. 

Regardless of the decision West made, the city’s Parks Department was already planning on installing several in-ground 300-gallon trash containers on the promenade to replace the existing 20- and 30-gallon trash cans. The new receptacles were paid for using American Rescue Plan Act funds.