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Judge To Finally Rule If Chicago Food Truck Laws Are Unconstitutional

Are the parking laws too restrictive?

Are Chicago’s food truck laws too restrictive?
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

It’s been about four years, but it appears a judge will finally rule if Chicago food truck laws—including parking restrictions and a Big Brother-like mandate that requires a GPS unit onboard to track truck movements—violate the Illinois Constitution. Local food truck owners filed a lawsuit against the city back in 2012. A judgment should come on Dec. 5.

Robert Frommer is the attorney representing the food trucks, specifically Laura Pekarik. She owns the Cupcakes For Courage food truck. Frommer was in court on Wednesday morning for a hearing on the lawsuit. He’s part of the Arlington, Va.-based Institute For Justice, a Libertarian organization that takes on cases where they feel government overstepped their boundaries.

"This is a hot-button issue, where local government can protect, where they can pick a winner and a loser in the market," he said in a Wednesday interview.

The Institute crunched the numbers and found food trucks can only legally park on 3 percent of the approximately 30 miles of curbs in Chicago’s busy North Loop district. After taking away parking space due to restrictions from bus stops, bike lanes, etc., that leaves about .8 miles of legal parking room for trucks, according to the institute. It doesn’t take an investigative report, but the statistic could explain why food trucks are often parked in no parking zones. It’s either that or not run a small business in Chicago.

Frommer reiterates that no one wants food trucks to be nuisances, especially when it comes to public safety issues such as parking in heavily-cogestive areas. Much of their research was motivated by a Sun-Times/ABC Chicago report revealing food trucks weren’t being ticketed when docked at no parking zones. However, Frommer said the rules—including the law barring trucks from parking within 200 feet from the entrances of brick and mortar restaurants—only represent "blatant protectionism."

The restaurant lobby groups, which include the Illinois Restaurant Association, have protected their assets. But as Frommer argued, it comes at the price of consumer choice. It could also explain why other cities enjoy more vibrant food truck scenes.

The city or Frommer could decide to appeal the December decision. Meanwhile, the city’s food trucks have taken to humor. Check out this photo calling out ABC Chicago.