Legal action against Ohio bike volunteers

Volunteers on a city Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) in Beavercreek, Ohio were threatened with criminal legal sanction — including possible “fines and imprisonment” — for “practicing engineering without a license” after a city engineer sent a complaint letter about those do-gooders to the Ohio State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors.

Cycling attorney Steve Magas took the case of Jerry Walling and Roger Brislawn, who volunteer as members of the Beavercreek Bikeway Advisory Committee. This BAC is designated in the municipal code as an “official commission” of Beavercreek advise city officials of their bicycling concerns. Their role is purely advisory; any actual engineering is done by licensed professional engineers employed by the city.

Walling and Brislawn must have done something to really annoy David Beach, who was then a city engineer for the city of Beavercreek Public Works Department. Walling and Brislawn wrote a bicycle & pedestrian accident report that highlighted the numerous right-turn-on-red collisions between motorists and cyclists. They made a few recommendations to improve safety, including specific recommendations to encourage cyclists to ride in the direction of traffic in the street instead of on the sidepath; and a “No Right Turn on Red” sign at this intersection where 18% of injury collisions occurred in this town of 45,000 people.

Beach sent a letter of complaint about this safety presentation to the state board that regulates professional engineering in the state of Ohio. The Board, in turn, sent a certified letter to the bike volunteers, accusing them of practicing engineering without a license (which is a crime), and informing them that doing so can result in “fines and imprisonment.”

While Walling and Brislawn prevailed with considerable pro bono assistance from Magas, criminal allegations against bike advocates can have a chilling effect on the thousands who volunteer time on advisory committees around the nation.

Read the details of how Magas defended Walling & Brislawn at Ohio Bike Lawyer: The Latest Attack on Cycling Advocacy.

6 Comments

  • March 12, 2012 - 11:56 am | Permalink

    Man… I’m on my town’s PBAC, and I’m happy to report that our town engineers are a lot nicer than that! ┬áMakes me want to be sure we’re extra nice to them though :)

  • March 12, 2012 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Similar thing happened here in Raleigh, NC. Not cycling related, but someone tried to point out flaws in a road improvement study, and, instead of causing anyone to take a second look at the study, he was charge with practicing engineering without a license. It’s a case referenced by Ohio Bike Lawyer.

    http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/03/964781/citizen-activist-grates-on-state.html
    I really have to question what “practicing” means. I would think the law would apply to someone being paid to provide engineering expertise. If you’re volunteering, and not claiming to be an expert, then I really don’t see how it would apply. But then I don’t know the actual law. Still seems very much a way to abuse the courts to silence people rather than acting on any legitimate principle, which is deplorable.

  • March 12, 2012 - 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been on a city advisory committee too. crazy stuff when the engineers who are supposed to work with you fight you instead.

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  • March 13, 2012 - 6:04 am | Permalink

    I wonder what is between the lines. Short of being a loose cannon, did Mr. Beach have allies in city government when he went after a city advisory committee? Sounds like some ugly politics at work.

    I was on on our county transportation advisory board for 8 years and chair for about half that time. Finally off due to term limits. Never saw something this ugly.

    We have clearly defined roles and responsibilities in our county, given that we have a very heavy emphasis on citizen boards and commissions. It makes this sort of snafu far less likely. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

  • March 13, 2012 - 10:47 am | Permalink

    I’m curious about the backstory too. ┬áMaybe I’ll call up Mr Beach someday and ask him.

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