They're all over town: printed or painted signs in a yard, telling drivers not to park in front of a house. They're not official signs from the city, threatening legitimate towing or expressing hours you can't park; they're more DIY.
Nurse practitioner Gordon Lang noticed a lot of these signs when he lived in Clarksville.
We went to his old neighborhood this week and stood in the street, facing a house with one of these signs.
"They have a driveway, they have a couple of cars, but in front of their house is a 'no parking' sign," Lang said. "Black letters, painted on plywood, so it doesn’t look very official. I always assumed they were trying to see what they could get away with."
The frequency of the signs in his old neighborhood prompted him to submit a question to our ATXplained project: Is it legal to make your own "no parking" signs?
Lang saw the signs all the time during the two years he lived in Clarksville.
"After a while I wondered if that was actually legal," he said, "if they could reserve private spots on the street, which is city property, I’m assuming."
"I just want people to be polite"
Before digging into the legality of these signs, we wanted to understand the reason people put them up.
At a home in Clarksville that had one, we met Karen Pavelka and her husband, Red Wassenich.
They bought their house 28 years ago. Over the past five years, they’ve gotten frustrated with the parking situation in the neighborhood. They live yards away from two restaurants, Josephine House and Jeffrey’s, establishments with just a handful of parking spots on their property. Between staff and patrons, a lot of people park on the street.
"On this street, on Waterson," Pavelka said, "people block our driveways routinely."
That's Pavelka's biggest complaint: People not being respectful. She said she's fine with people using the street to park if they're going to a restaurant.
"I just want people to be polite and not block my driveway," she said.
Not only do people block her driveway, but they also block the gate to her backyard. This is where she put up a sign that says, "Do Not Block Gate."
"They park right up onto the curb, and if I have the bike or the dog, you just fall into their car," Pavelka said. "So it’s just rude."
"We don't want confusion"
The city hears about situations like what's going in Clarksville all the time.
"If the sign has been put up by someone other than the City of Austin, then no," said Eric Bollich, managing engineer for the Austin Transportation Department; they're not legitimate.
His department actually sometimes removes these signs – not the ones made with paint and poster board, but more official-looking ones people get online. One sign the department confiscated says "Slow, Pets Playing." From a distance, you might think the metal sign is real, and that's the problem Bollich says with residents creating their own signs.
"We don’t want confusion by the road user," he said. "If people start questioning whether they should be there they might start questioning other signs."
Bollich and his staff hear from residents all over the city with complaints similar to Pavelka's: homeowners getting their driveways blocked, their trash cans run over or garbage left in their yards. He says in the case of a blocked driveway, the homeowner can call the police, because that’s a parking violation.
But he also echoes what Karen Pavelka said.
“If everyone behaved and treated it like their own neighborhood," he said, "I think they would go a long way in realizing people live here and they just want respect and a nice neighborhood to live in."
In someone else’s shoes
When told these homemade signs carry no consequences and that some residents put them out after other people intrude in their space, Lang says he appreciates that.
When he was in Clarksville, Lang was renting, and he and his fiancée would poke fun of people who put the signs up. But now he owns a house in South Austin.
"I park in the driveway and my fiancée parks in the street, because I leave before her in the morning," he said. "When someone takes her spot, she complains and I just tell her – remember what we complained about in Clarksville."