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'Is it OK to put rocks in the right-of-way?'

PHILLIPSOne person in our neighborhood has placed orange cones in the public right-of-way to keep people from parking in front of their home. Another has placed large rocks there. Is this legal? And if someone accidently drives over one of these rocks, is the person who placed them there liable for the damage?

Since this is more a question for the Traffic Engineering Department, I contacted officials there to make sure my thoughts and previous experience with these matters are correct. Here’s what I was told:

The Engineering Department allows “landscaping” in the right-of-way. This includes trees, shrubbery and, yes, even rocks. The trees, rocks and shrubs must be at least three feet from the edge of the paved or normally traveled roadway.

Cones placed in the right-of-way to prevent parking are not permitted. Any cones placed in the roadway — including the public right-of-way — to divert, control or prevent traffic must have a traffic plan approved by the Engineering Department.

As suggested by the name, the public right-of-way is public, and anyone may park there absent any “No Parking” signs, red or yellow painted curbs or other official signage. The parking is “first come, first served”; you cannot reserve your own space.

Because they are engineers and not lawyers, no one in the Engineering Department wanted to comment on liability. And not being a lawyer myself, I would suggest it is similar to an illegally parked car. If you are driving and hit a parked car, even if it is illegally parked, the driver of the moving vehicle generally and usually will be considered at fault. There may be some mitigating factors, such as how well-lit the car (or rocks) were, whether they were placed in a manner to create a hazard, etc. Of course, once the lawyers get involved, that could all change.

— CSO Dan Phillips