Monday, September 22, 2008

I should report that guy to the police... a phrase we often find ourselves saying after being intentionally buzzed, swerved into, or "brake checked" by the occasional aggressive driver. We usually don't, however, because of laziness, it not being worth the hassle, or the perception that the police won't take our complaint seriously.

Well, local cyclist/racer/generally good guy Mehul experienced an incident with an automobile in the Metroparks that caused him to take action and pursue the matter with the proper authorities. His correspondence, and the written responses from the Metroparks, are included below. The only thing edited from these e-mails is Mehul's address. Although some of the e-mails do not have dates, they were all sent within a week or so in late August. After the last e-mail from the Metroparks, Mehul had a telephone conversation with the author of the last letter, and Mehul's summary of that conversation is also included.

Mehul Gala

August 25, 2008

Captain Dan Veloski
Ranger Headquarter
4600 Valley Pkwy
Fairview Park, OH 44126

Dear Captain Veloski:

On Sunday August 24th,between noon and 12:30, I was on a bike ride southbound on Valley Parkway between Mastic Road and Puritas Road by Big Met Golf course, a stretch of road I have ridden on many times before. I was passed very closely by either a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis (Ohio plate DCE 8094), after he passed he put his brakes on hard. So hard, I had to make an evasive maneuver to the left of him. The hard braking made me realize this was not an accident. As I passed he rolled his window down, and I asked him what his problem was. I did use a lot of abusive language, but I felt threatened after almost being run off the road. I told the gentleman that I was going to call the police as he smugly offered to do the same but left instead. I continued on my ride in the same direction. I saw the vehicle turn left (eastbound) onto Puritas. Out of curiosity and also a desire to achieve some justice, I went left also, but lost sight of him. Frustrated, I turned left into Rocky River Stables and there was some sort event taking place. I asked one of the volunteers directing traffic if they had seen this beige vehicle, but before she could answer, I spotted it. I rolled over to it, and took a photo of his license plate. Again, I engaged the driver with some pretty angry words (I was charged up on a lot of adrenaline after feeling my life threatened by his actions).

I saw Ranger Tim Garris and explained to him what happened. Another Ranger talked to the driver of the vehicle. I explained to Ranger Garris (who was very polite and professional) what happened and he explained to me that there was nothing that I could do. He passed along your information and I am now writing to you.

Had this guy fired a bullet past my head, he would be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. I wish he could be charged with the same. My other concern is now this guy gets to get away with this thinking it is okay and without punishment or warning of any kind.

The Cleveland Metroparks are one of the greatest assets Northeast Ohio has. As cyclists, we are constantly being harassed and threatened by motorists. What is being done by the rangers to patrol and enforce the traffic laws in the Metroparks. Specifically: speeding, cars passing too close to cyclists, and passing with unsafe conditions (around a curve or oncoming traffic). 'Share the Road' signs alone are not enough, they are vague and do not work.

What can be done? What further actions should I take? What can I do to make sure that this guy doesn't actually succeed in hurting me or one of my fellow cyclists? I would love to help in this process if possible.
Mehul Gala

Good morning Mehul,

Thanks for taking the time to write back to us concerning the incident with the other motorist. I also appreciate the kind words about our Ranger personnel. I am going to hand your complaint off to the Western Division supervisor, Lieutenant Terry Bernath. Lt. Bernath will consult with our traffic unit and others in the building to determine what could be done and he will contact you with his findings. Certainly, there is an opportunity for you to file charges against the operator (and he/she may feel compelled to do the same based on your contact with him that day). I'm certain that on-scene Rangers identified him on the day of your incident. It may be a difficult case as there are many circumstances that could affect prosecution. Nevertheless, it warrants our review.

Generally, Rangers from all divisions are on patrol in marked vehicles, unmarked cars, bicycles and afoot. They are tasked with monitoring traffic concerns like the one you have brought to our attention and do write citations and make arrests for traffic violation, ranging from reckless operation, to speeding, to OVI, etc. Incidents like yours give us the opportunity to remind cyclists and motorists that we have a shared use approach in Ohio, that there is room for both to share the roadway. As you are aware, recent legislation has made it safer for cyclists to share the roadway with motorists, BUT that legislation still requires patience on the part of motorists who drive behind cyclists awaiting an opportunity to safely pass. Cyclists must stay as far to the right as possible and should refrain from passing stopped cars at red lights and stop signs.

Just last week, our staff was asked to add the cyclists/motorists issue to their specific patrol assignments based on a complaint from a motorist who claims that cyclists in Rocky River ride in the center of the lane and do not use the trails as they should. That motorist was reminded of Ohio law that permits cyclists to be on our roadways – but is correct in his report that the riders should stay to the right.
I'll look forward to reading Lt. Bernath's response to you and invite you to write back if you have any follow-up concerns. Stay safe.

Daniel J. Veloski, Captain - Field Operations
Cleveland Metroparks Ranger Department
4600 Valley Parkway, Fairview Park, OH 44126
(440) 331-5745 - office
(440) 331-5530 - dispatch
(440) 333-4911 - emergency line

Mr. Gala,

I received your concerns from Capt Veloski concerning an incident on Sunday, August 24th. I have talked to both officers that were approached at the stables. I have read the response that you received from Captain Veloski.

We receive weekly complaints from cyclist about vehicle traffic and vehicle traffic complaints about cyclist. The ranger department actively and aggressively enforces the appropriate laws that govern any given situation concerning traffic issues. While rangers cannot be everywhere, it is incumbent upon the cyclist and motorist to share the roadway, be respectful of each other, and get along. This however does not happen all the time as you have indicated.

In reviewing your incident there is not a reasonable charge that we can prosecute. You both have different accounts as to what happened. There are no witnesses to the incident. Your opinion as to what is a "safe distance" and what another person's opinion on what is a "safe distance" is subjective. The law does not and cannot reasonably address the issue of "Safe Distance" in the context of the law. Is 6 inches enough or is 2 feet enough? The fact is: he did not make contact with you or your bike, and it then becomes your word against his word as to how close he was.

As far as what action should be taken in the future, I would not suggest a confrontation. The use of profanity only escalates an already volatile situation. Remain calm and report the incident to the rangers or local PD if not in the park and let us investigate the incident.

Please feel free to call me if you have any questions or comments.

Lt Bernath
Terry Bernath, Lieutenant
Western Division
Cleveland Metroparks Rangers
4600 Valley Pkwy
Fairview Park, Ohio 44126
Phone (440) 331-5414
Dispatch (440) 331-5530
Fax (440) 331-5342

Lt. Bernath,
I understand rangers cannot be everywhere. I also understand that the cyclists and motorist must share the roadway.

I am usually very comfortable cycling on the road. I ride my bike to work for transportation, in the park for fitness and recreation, and in races for competitions. Sunday I felt very vulnerable on the road. I was passed at a distance that was unsafe and then intentionally 'brake checked" at least twice. Had I not avoided this action, I certainly would have hit his car and been thrown off my bike.

I am appalled that it seems like motorists can do what ever they want towards cyclists lawfully using the roads unless they actually hit someone.
I do encourage my fellow cyclists to obey the laws of the road: stop at stop signs, obey traffic signals, ride on the correct side of the road, etc. Also, we do go above and beyond to accommodate traffic by riding single file when traffic is heavy.
Sincerely and with all due respect Lieutenant, I think that you are not offering me much confidence in this situation. On one hand I am led to believe that since I was not physically contacted and not physical harm was done, nothing is wrong. This is not the case. Cyclists are yelled at, harassed, 'buzzed' every day, and basically menaced [most of the time without witnesses other than fellow cyclist] for taking part in an activity permitted by law! On the other hand, I am being told to report the situation during future incidents. Why? I have no physical evidence of harm or menacing so isn't it going to be my word against his?

Believe me, I would have loved to remain calm in this situation. I felt threatened.

My profanity does not, provide an after-the-fact excuse for his driving behavior. It helps show the state of fear that I was facing. Your Rangers, however, did a fantastic job of making me feel much safer and calming me down. Your response after the fact disappoints me.

Mehul Gala

Mehul: That was the last letter that I sent to Lt. Bernath. He then called me and we talked for about a half hour.

The conversation led no where then. We discussed how motorists are getting mad at cyclists and vice versa. He stated that motorists complain about riding in the center of the road. I told him that we have to do that occasionally because the road conditions are poor, so if we do have to do that, it is usually only a few hundred feet at the most.

I asked him if the same priority was given to that motorist complaining about cyclists as me complaining about almost getting hit and he said, "that complaint is important to that person".

I was blown away. He wouldn't say that he gives it the same priority, but he wouldn't concede that it was frivolous complaint.

I told him that I want to press charges against that guy. He told me that he would have to charge me with disrupting the peace or disorderly conduct. I told him that I was fine with that, but he didn't seem to want to take me seriously.

I felt like I was not getting anywhere and decided I was wasting my time. He apologized for not being able to offer me 100% satisfaction. I told him he was hovering close to 0%. I told him that it seemed like there was a mild prejudice against cyclists and that it was a shame.

My final impression was that the Cleveland Metroparks' Rangers are hand cuffed and pretty much useless because of poor attitudes.

My brief initial thoughts:

If someone unsuccessfully tried to rob someone at gunpoint in the Metroparks, and the victim was able to positively identify the robber, would the Lieutenant have the same response: no witnesses, no hard evidence, no charges?

What does the fact that some cyclists (in the opinion of some drivers) ride too close to center have to do with the fact that a driver tried to nearly kill Mehul?

Just remember that our tax dollars are paying these people's salary.


Ray Huang said...

Sunday an older gent in a new silver Merceds SL sports car buzzed me in a corner at 50+mph with oncoming traffic and left me about a foot or less. This was on County line. I swear its the same guy who last winter in a black Mercedes sedan passed me as if I wasnt there on Chagrin River Road, well above the speed limit and just as close. I have his license this time (iveyone). I regret not filing a police report every time I think about it. Laziness or is it a just not wanting to waste my time and be disappointing or have the situation turned around on me?

JimmyNick said...

Metroparks rangers do not like bicyclists. Period.
These supervisors can spew whatever crap they want to, but it doesn't change the facts. How do I know? I've talked to some of them when I was off the bike and they were out of uniform, and they didn't know I was a cycist. All "bikers" do is get in the way of cars, they say.
Am I generalizing about the whole from the statements of two? Yeah. But it's fair: They're cops -- or at least they pretend to be. And cops disdain cyclists and other "liberals."
What recourse do you have? None. The Metroparks is a kingdom, a complete non-democratic monarchy over which you and I have no say other than to vote down a parks levy from time to time. One old judge appoints three commissioners to three-year terms. Those commissioners control everything, from the $90 million budget to the persistent decision to shut mountain bikes out of the parks for no reason.
Just try getting a fair shake out of that.

- JN

GK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GK said...

I have a friend that works in the Ranger department and they have some serious professionalism issues that start at the top and trickle its way down. As you can see with what happened, the people in the leadership positions just "pass the buck," are unprofessional, and don't care about the taxpayers. Sad situation...

Chuck Baugh said...

you guys are such wusses... if it was such a problem for you then you should have kicked his arse right then and there... screw going to the police we all know theyre useless. and just fyi im not terribly fond of the cyclists in my area because they do feel that they own the road they interfere with traffic because they feel the need to ride two or three across the lane with their stupid spandex uniforms as if they were really a part of some race team...