Reserved parking: staking claim on the public ROW from a private flower bed.

It’s uncommon that I feature an article where I strive to keep the location mostly or completely anonymous.  After all, that “sense of place” is often a critical feature, and it’s one of the primary ways I organize/classify them: by major city, by state, and (in rare instances) by country.  Only one example comes to mind where I knew right off the bat that I wasn’t going to reference the municipality or state, primarily because I was deeply skeptical of the practice that the municipality was using to manage parking overstays.  This time I offer another example of reserved parking shenanigans, where I remain overwhelmingly critical—with small reservations for the cleverness in which this property owner skirts some universal laws.

The property in question is a corner residential rowhome in a very stable, upper-middle class area.  The fact that it’s a corner lot is important: from a commercial standpoint, corner parcels are nearly always the bee’s knees: with double the visibility (from two streets rather than one and multiple possibilities for vehicular ingress, the land is nearly always greater value than a parcel that fronts only one street.  As far as a residential is concerned, corner lots are a much more mixed bag.  Those same commercial perks—extra visibility and frontage—are often deficits, since people typically seek privacy and quiet for their home environments.  However, when it comes to attached housing, a corner parcel is usually the end of a row, giving the dwelling itself greater opportunities for sun exposure (windows on three sides of the house rather than just two), and, more often than not, additional yard space created by the setback distance between the house and the edge of the property.  The physicality of the rowhomes here seem to confer this sort of advantage to this specific property, so I’d imagine it’s worth a fair amount more than its neighbors. By rowhome standards, it has a nice sized yard.

But the property owner has decided to do something a little less expected.

fake reserved parking for public ROW - a homegrown sign

Just beyond the brick retaining wall, tucked among the flowers, is a sign that says “RESERVED PARKING for” and then the address of the home behind it, which I’ve bleeped out.  The reserved parking this homeowner is referring to is the street just outside the frame of the photograph.  Essentially the residents of this home are instructing other motorists that they cannot use the shoulder of the road reserved for on-street parking; it is exclusively the domain of the owners.  And, this being a corner parcel, the other street frontage has the same sign, stuck right there on the retaining wall.

fake reserved parking for public ROW - a homegrown sign

So….these aren’t real signs.  Or at least, they’re not legally recognized.  The physicality of the first sign should be a dead giveaway.  Not only would a municipally sanctioned sign not get planted in a flower garden, but notice those little black curly-cues to the lower left and lower right; they are decorative clasps.  A municipality wouldn’t use that: signage shapes, colors, sizes, fonts, and materials all must abide by criteria to ensure consistency across jurisdictions, with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) articulating the standards in general and municipal ordinances for the particulars.  These reserved parking signs look incredibly official; they use the same color scheme and fonts we’d expect from roadside parking regulations.  But a city isn’t going to dedicate resources to assist a private homeowner in reserving a really convenient space within 20 feet of his or her front door.

More importantly, the legal ramifications of these two signs should make it obvious they aren’t legit.  Fundamentally, they imply that the homeowner is staking claim on a public right-of-way: specifically the space on the shoulder of these two streets that abut his/her house.  And it appears they are relying on a combination of ignorance and complacency from the general community, that they might get away with it.

It’s a safe bet.  After all, it’s not uncommon, in densely populated urban neighborhoods, to offer certain degrees of time, place, and manner restrictions, usually to prevent overcrowding of vehicles, so that the residents of the neighborhoods—who, in rowhouses dating from before 1940, often lack a garage or even a driveway on their property—can still find a place to park reasonably close to their front door.  It’s perfectly reasonable and with precedent: public places may be open to the public, but they have hours of operations, whether they be a city courthouse or a downtown park.  When it comes to on-street parking, example of time restrictions would be those that allow free-range parking during the day but restrict it to residents after certain hours, say between 10:00pm and 6:00am.  Some municipalities restrict parking for street sweeping, for example, every first and third Thursday of the month from 9:00 to 12:00pm. Meanwhile, place-based reserved parking may completely exclude on-street parking in areas essential for the function of other municipal services, such as bus stops or municipal enforcement vehicles (such as when a police precinct is close by).  If parking is exclusive to certain vehicles—publicly supported services—this does not undermine their function as public ROW; public vehicles belong to the public trust and, as part of their police power, can generally park where they wish, if a situation arises that necessitates it.

And manner-based reserved parking may limit vehicles exactly how vehicles can park along the side of the street.  Most municipalities, for example, will not allow a vehicle to parallel park in the opposite direction of the flow of traffic in its next closest lane.  And some municipalities will consider a vehicle parked too far from a curb to constitute a violation, even if the location itself is legal; I received a citation in Albuquerque a few years ago for parking more than two feet from the curb, a condition that didn’t occur to me because the road was extremely wide and not at all busy.  More importantly, for the sake of our corner lot featured in the two above photos, municipalities often provide some combination of these restrictions, to mitigate concerns when the demand for on-street parking exceed the supply/availability.  Specifically, the city might offer permitted parking to residents—those who can offer proof that they live in the area through something definitive, like a utility bill in their name.  These residents can get a permit that they affix to their car’s windshield.  Everybody else in the neighborhood may be subject to some of this time, place, and manner-based reserved parking, but those with the permit can park along any curb at any time—provided they aren’t impinging upon the health, safety, and welfare of the community through their parking choice (i.e., blocking a curb cut to someone else’s driveway, a bus stop, or an alley).  In a dense neighborhood where on-street parking is in huge demand, the city may restrict on-street parking at all times—except for those with permits. 

Any instance where on-street parking is primarily or exclusively the domain of permit holders may weaken the perception of a public right-of-way; after all, such limitations imply that these coveted spaces along the curb are the domain of a few select, privileged people.  But the fact remains that such restrictions only apply to those who obtain the permit, after the City has deemed them eligible.  And they are usually location-specific: the permit aligns with a certain region with a clear identifier; for example, a person with a Zone B permit can park anywhere which the City has identified as Zone B, but their permit grants them no special privileges anywhere else.  And permit regions do not equate to a right for a person to park on the portion of the street directly abutting their residential property.  None of these restrictions confer the exclusivity onto a single landowner; they remain public.  Anyone with the permit can park in front of that corner house. Much the same applies with disabled parking: on rare occasions, we can spot a car-shaped space on a public street reserved for persons with disabilities. More of then than not, a disabled homeowner can appeal for this spot. But the special accommodation framed by two City-approved signs flanking the 14-foot space is available for any vehicle with a handicapped privilege, not just the homeowner.

That said, this clever property owner with the corner parcel and the two red-on-white signs has capitalized on a legal murkiness that accompanies such a byzantine array of time, place, and manner restrictions.  And, just out of view from these two photos, one of the two intersecting streets does, in fact, feature a sign that details permit-based restrictions: the street offers three-hour parking from 8:00am to 5:00pm, except for permit holders (who are exempt).  This is a generous standard, almost always guaranteeing reserved parking for our homeowner. But it’s not an absolutely guarantee, and apparently it’s not cushy enough; hence the sign in their flower bed.  The signs—both city authorized and the fake ones in the photos—together convey to strangers in the neighborhood that their car isn’t welcome right at this spot, even from 8 to 5.  Although the sign in the flower bed is not enforceable, it’s likely that a significant number of visitors to the neighborhood won’t know better, won’t want to risk getting cited, and will seek a spot elsewhere.  The homeowners’ claim to reserved parking occupies nebulous legal territory; they are appropriating the language of a legal enforcement body, but as long as they don’t actually pursue enforcement of an act that isn’t illegal—anyone can park there, even without a permit, provided they don’t exceed the three hours—the city in question has bigger fish to fry.  And, as a result, 98% of the time, these homeowners enjoy an array of convenience spaces right in front of their house.  On both streets.  Reserved parking through a convincing looking homemade sign.  Clever buggers.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

6 thoughts on “Reserved parking: staking claim on the public ROW from a private flower bed.

    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Feel free to try, but be careful! Odds are reasonable that there is a higher concentration of well-versed lawyers in your neck of the woods than in the town featured here.

      Reply
  1. Jeffrey Jakucyk

    I guess this is the city equivalent of the suburbanite leaving a nasty letter on the windshield of your car asking/telling you not to park in front of their house. The latter at least requires active vigilance, though less upfront investment. Regardless, they’re both selfish, and even borderline harassment, especially in this case where the homeowner is trying to commandeer a much larger portion of the street frontage than they could even reasonably use.

    I’m reminded of an old This Old House episode from the late 1980s or early 1990s. The Boston homeowners had an L-shaped house with an interior courtyard of sorts. The long thin wing blocking the courtyard from the side street had extra space they didn’t really need, so they proposed building a passageway through it (the 2nd story would remain above) to the back yard so they could park their cars. My recollection is that some poor communication and a lackluster onsite mockup didn’t properly convey that this was a passageway, and the surrounding residents were convinced they were building a garage instead. They vetoed the proposal and the owners had to make do with street parking like most everyone else.

    This got me thinking about some of the tradeoffs in these scenarios. At a minimum, if a resident has just one car then a driveway is functionally no different than a private assigned street parking spot. A space approximately the size of one parking spot is permanently removed from public use whether it’s a reserved spot or a curb cut. Thus, adjacent neighbors would be disinclined to allow either, because their pool of potential parking spaces has been reduced. Double wide driveways for two cars are no better. Worse yet, on narrow streets (such was the case on This Old House) more than one street parking spot may be required to accommodate turning radii and clearance to street corners, fire hydrants, or other driveways. On the particular street I live on, only one car can park between the driveways of the houses, but they’re generous parking spaces. You could fit five cars in front of two houses, which currently has room for only two street parking spaces and two driveways.

    So to circle back around to the subject at hand. If they could install a driveway, they’d effectively be reserving (some of) that street space for themselves anyway. It doesn’t excuse the trickery or the extent thereof, but there’s at least a tiny inkling of logic behind it.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Definitely agree with your first paragraph about the selfish intent of this, especially given that they have more street frontage than any of their neighbors in the middle of the row of attached housing.

      I like the This Old House analogy, if I’m accurately conceptualizing it and the tradeoffs you mention. Technically the homeowners I’ve featured here have no actual authority to do what they’re doing; they are hoping their signs imply enough authority to scare people away, but they could never enforce it. It’s unlikely I will ever be in this area again, but if I will, I might try to push the envelope to see how they react and remind them they have no right to control on-street parking in front of their house. I’m not a very agreeable person.

      Are there conditions where a “private assigned street parking spot” exists? I can’t think of any that I’ve come across. The only condition would be if there were dedicated stripes for spaces to demarcate parallel parking with unit numbers labeled within each space, but in this case it would maybe apply to a multifamily building that has actually financed a widening of the street to accommodate parallel parking, but the multifamily property management owns and this space. And even this scenario–where a private entity pays for a wider road to accommodate off-street parking–probably wouldn’t be allowed in most municipalities. But I can’t think of a situation where an on-street space can get permanently reserved for a private homeowner (akin to the sign in the flower bed seen here). If you have an example, I’m all ears (and eyes, if there’s a photo).

      Reply
      1. Jeffrey Jakucyk

        I don’t doubt that it’s happened somewhere, but it’s more of a thought exercise than anything. The point is that a curb cut is effectively the same as a private assigned space, and while the former is nearly universally approved, the latter is not, even though it would certainly be a cheaper alternative for the adjacent homeowner and arguably safer for the street as a whole. The closest analogy would be your aforementioned disabled street parking space, which is technically open to anyone with the appropriate placard, but is effectively only for that specific home.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          Yes, I’ll concede that when a city grants a disabled parking space (completely with the signs flanking the requisite 14′ feet along the street), it is essentially a dedicated place on the shoulder of a public ROW, almost exclusively for that one disabled person. The key of course being “almost”. The City engineered it the space as a reasonable accommodation for a motorist with disabilities (who, we can presume, typically does not have the option for off-street parking), but any disabled driver can park there. The disabled motorist who lives nearby does not have the capacity to exclude in the same way he/she would if it were private.

          My “privately assigned street parking” analogy is a long shot, but you’re right: it probably exists somewhere. Most private developers aren’t going to cut into a curb to build parallel parking spaces right next to the street though, unless the dimensions of the yard don’t allow them offer any other type.

          Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. You are not required to sign in. Anonymous posting is just fine.

Verified by MonsterInsights