Kentucky Mom Prevails Against Cops Who Criminalized Her Bike Commute

This week in Kentucky, a judge held up the right of a single mom to ride her bike to work, after she was ticketed three times by local law enforcement for “reckless driving.”

Cherokee Schill was ticketed three times for riding her bike to work in Kentucky. This week a judge ruled in her favor. Image: WKYT
Cherokee Schill was ticketed three times for riding her bike to work in Lexington, Kentucky. This week a judge ruled in her favor. Image: WKYT

The defendant, Cherokee Schill, told Jessamine County Judge Janet Booth that she bike commutes 18 miles to her job at an auto parts manufacturer out of financial necessity. The commute takes her along some of the busiest roads in the Lexington area.

Schill told WKYT she suffers abuse from drivers, but that the commute has helped her lose weight and keep food on the table for her two children.

But the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office argued Schill’s biking poses a danger to herself and drivers.

“It just creates a very dangerous situation when you’ve got somebody on a bike that’s difficult to see to begin with, on a very highly traveled road, with significant speeds and a lot of people don’t pay attention to what they should be while driving, so it all compounds itself,” Jessamine County Attorney Brian Goettl argued. One police officer said he’d almost hit Schill with his car.

But under Kentucky law, bikes are legal vehicles. Judge Booth has sided with Schill, WKYT reports, and she plans to continue bike commuting.

“I’m just trying to get home like everyone else, and I’m going as fast as I can,” she told the television station. “Some days I can go faster than others. The really big thing is, we all need to share the road.”

  • Vernon6

    This story is also one heck of an argument for more bike lanes.

  • I would encourage you to follow the link to the news story and watch the video they posted. She gives an interview that is pretty wow.

  • jeisenbe

    I’m a little confused why she chooses to ride in the right lane, instead of in the wide paved shoulder of the highway. Is she a very strong vehicular cycling believer? Are there too many right-turn lanes? Is the shoulder full of dangerous debris? Is this explained in another article or interview?

  • It sounds like she has been coached by some vehicular cyclists to me. But the news article also mentions debris. Another thing is, she is covering 36 miles a day, so it might not be practical to cover that kind of distance unless you’re in the lane.

  • Good question. This is reading a lot into one picture, but I do have one suggestion:

    If you look at the picture very closely, you can see the shoulder ends just before where she is. So if it’s a right hand turn here she needs to be in the lane to avoid surprising somebody who is turning right.

    (EDIT: There’s some other pictures on the news article where it’s less clear, but at any rate it’s hard to judge a situation like that.)

  • jeisenbe

    I checked out the area on Google Maps again. There is a wide shoulder (>8 feet) from Nicolasville to the edge of Lexington along highway 27, and Google Maps actually recommends riding on this route for the faster option. In Lexington, there are alternative side streets you can take, but the shoulder disappears on the highway, replaced with a third lane (in each direction) instead.
    But the picture at the top of the article shows her riding in the right-hand lane in the section where there is a shoulder and 2 lanes in each direction (plus center turn lane); that’s the section in the countryside between Lexington and Nicolasville. I’m not sure why she is choosing the right hand lane instead of the shoulder in this area.
    For context, I sometimes ride my bike in the right lane of a busy street 4-lane stret in Portland, which used to be labled Highway 26, for the 1 mile where there is no bike lane or shoulder. But I will ride on wide shoulder if it is available, such as on Highway 26 in the countryside.

  • jeisenbe

    Map of the transition from 2 lanes each way (plus shoulders) to 3 lanes each way: http://goo.gl/maps/Xsllt

  • Beentheredonethat

    A lot of those medians are rippled, and besides, she is riding a legal vehicle for the road and is only required to stay as far to the right as possible.

  • B.Joe

    It’s pretty obviously a turn lane she’s riding past. God, this is why it’s so dangerous on the roads; people have no idea what they are even looking at.

  • Eugenian

    This is a good example of an attempt to blame the victim for designing roadways that place the cyclist at risk. If it’s legal but exceptionally dangerous, then the law, not the rider, is at fault. The risk is from the design and traffic, not from Ms. Schill.

  • geraldshields

    Those folks need to setup bike lanes so that people like Schill don’t get hit by cars.

  • KC

    She’s been advised by a Cycling Instructor as to how to successfully accomplish a challenging commute.

  • Rosa

    It’s generally illegal to drive on the shoulders. I’d choose what looks safe (though depending on traffic, it may not be, you can’t tell that from Google) but if she was being harassed by police she would have had to stay with the letter of the law.

  • J Godsey

    IF they use federal money to maintain those roads, they must make accomodation for bikes.

  • Joe B

    Why does it matter what her specific reason for taking the lane is? Clearly the shoulder is unsuitable, otherwise she would be using it.

    Most of the reasons for the shoulder being unsuitable are not going to be apparent to a driver in an adjacent car; it’s kind of ridiculous to expect those reasons to be apparent to a guy viewing a google map from a thousand miles away.

  • Probably vehicular cyclists were the ones who defended her too, which well done.

  • ForrestalMN

    All the rights in the world won’t help her if she’s severely injured. Wouldn’t be worth it to me.

  • cyclifist

    In another article, a photo shows the archaically designed (wide, deeply cut and continuous) rumble strip just to the right of the fog line. If Ms. Schill were to try to drive on the should for any distance, she would have to traverse this hazard multiple times to avoid debris and poorly maintained or non-existent pavement, i.e. unusable shoulder.

  • Mark

    This is America’s middle class: Fighting tooth and nail just to stay above water.

  • erx

    Bikes are legal vehicles (unless prohibited, for example, on a freeway) and have the right to any usable lane. That said, there is often debris, obstructions, broken glass, trash,
    dead animals, sticks, and rumble strips that can present hazards to
    bicycles tires along the median. In many places, the median rolls off to a gravelly road bed or collapses to a narrow width that can cause falls, or accidents. Many riders choose to ride in the center of the lane deliberately to
    increase their visibility to motorists, and to help discourage illegal
    passing of the cyclist in areas where that would be hazardous (near
    intersections when making left turns, for example).

  • cyclifist

    Her right to drive her bicycle in the traffic lane just needs to be protected by law enforcement and proper judicial practice. She shouldn’t have to worry about road rage of motorists who are ignorant of the law. She is driving exactly where she needs to drive in order to have the best vantage for avoiding hazards and be seen early by motorists so that they can make the lane change. Exercising her right is what is keeping her safe, not in harm’s way, as you seem to suggest. It is well worth it.

    It’s not only about sharing the road with cyclists. It’s about attentiveness and cooperation between motorists to facilitate lane changes. Unfortunately, too many motorists have an “every man for himself” attitude on the road.

  • cyclifist

    You must mean “hit by motorists”. Too many people have the attitude that roads are for cars only, that cars are dangerous and that it’s a cyclist’s fault if he or she wants to share the road with cars and gets injured as a result. Well, those cars are driven by people who are responsible for the safe operation of their cars and should not be allowed to escape the consequences if they are not up to doing so.

  • cyclifist

    “The risk is from the design and traffic, not from Ms. Schill.”

    And from a car-centric culture, America’s love affair with the automobile.

  • Wile E. Coyote (Supergenius)

    Because as annoying as that is to drivers, the alternative is getting blown apart by some idiot texting and ignoring the side of the road. The way to stay alive as a cyclist is to demand that other vehicles treat you as a vehicle, and to obey the rules of the road.

  • infinitebuffalo

    In most places the law is ‘as far right as _practicable_’, which is a very different standard.

  • ForrestalMN

    I wouldn’t count on law enforcement or my own careful driving to protect me or trust any driver on that apparently extremely busy highway. I’ll ask again, what good are my rights if I’m busted up in the hospital?

  • infinitebuffalo

    Yes, we’re all sure that some man hundreds of miles away has better ideas than she does for how she should get to work.

  • Well there’s no question that many more Americans would potentially chose cycling if it weren’t for this kind of fear. But people shouldn’t be coerced into an enormous expense like car ownership with the threat of gave injury or unemployment. Almost of third of people who live in Kentucky are obese.

  • cyclifist

    Your apparent sarcasm is a little confusing. I don’t know to whom you are referring, ForrestalMN, me or someone else. Of course Ms. Schill is the best one to know how she should get to work. I don’t believe either ForrestalMN or I am trying to say what is best for her. I am merely affirming her choice of lane position, given the route she is apparently constrained to take.

  • cyclifist

    I’ll say again, given the choice she has to make, she is choosing the right way to drive her bicycle. You can choose to live in fear and not step out the door if you like. Ms. Shill hasn’t reported any close calls in the reported interviews, only the verbal abuse she receives from people who wish to limit her right to use the road in a manner that she knows is safe.

    The testimony by the LEO in the first video in the link in the article is a sad indictment of an unskilled driver, let alone a patrol LEO. If he was in some kind of hurry to respond to an incident, he should have had lights and siren going, for which Ms. Schill most likely would have taken the shoulder. As it was, it was a poor example of the risk that Ms. Schill faces.

  • geraldshields

    It’s not the cyclist’s fault, but still you take a risk riding these roads with drivers that (1) Can’t drive and (2) Don’t respect bicyclists.

  • cyclifist

    I agree with ^. However, to a lot of people with little or no experience driving a bicycle in traffic, this is counterintuitive. For people like Schill, who have to drive their bicycle for a long distance on a highway to commute, driving in the lane rather than at the edge is safer. It provides better visibility to see and be seen, avoids edge of road hazards and tells motorists that they must change lanes to pass rather than squeezing by in the same lane. Bike lanes along such highways are usually left to collect debris swept from the traffic lanes. The real world, honest way to deal with the problem is to teach drivers from the beginning to respect bicyclists as an expected part of normal traffic.

  • betty barcode

    I’m all for bike lanes, but let’s be clear about one thing: Cars don’t kill people, drivers do.

  • Velomobile1

    We also have to remember that to cycle out on the roadways is a right. It is the right to travel. To operate a motor vehicle is a privilege. A privilege that can be revoked. So stated by the United States Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

  • ForrestalMN

    It was ever thus….

  • ForrestalMN

    I live in Minneapolis, a city with more self-righteous bicyclists per capita than any city in the country. They all know the way other people ought to live, too. And they carry themselves with an air of superiority that’s rather nauseating.

  • cyclifist

    Forrestal, as you say, it’s not worth it to you. I can respect that. I doubt that you are imposing that belief to cyclists such as Ms. Schill who drive a bicycle in the traffic lane out of necessity, not out of self-righteousness. But are cyclists, no matter how self-righteous, actually imposing an idea of how to live onto you? Live and let live. Be careful of double standards.

  • DevilAnse

    I have a problem with the Cop, not the cyclist…..I think he makes up the law as he goes.

  • DevilAnse

    Those are young cyclists (in my Berkeley experience) They’re exactly like young drivers, young waiters, young pedestrians, etc. Offensive, but not a crime.

  • I suggest looking at the video that showed the drifts of gravel and broken glass in the shoulder, because there were places that only an expert cyclist could have stayed upright through, and even an expert could not prevent glass from ruining a tire. The equivalent for cars would be random spike strips tossed in the travel lanes.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Are you saying the rights should be given up? In a court?

  • ForrestalMN

    She can “stand up for her rights” if she wants. No one wants to see her hurt, but if God-forbid it happens, what good does standing up for your rights do?

  • Michael Klatsky

    She has the right to bike – so one of two things is happening:

    A – The municipality that controls the road is negligent in its roadway designs for creating an unsafe condition for a user such as herself.

    -or-

    B – That right is a standard that is inappropriate for this type of roadway design and needs to be re-written.

    Either lens is right, if you ask me (too little flexibility in the system.)

  • ForrestalMN

    Like cyclifist, I notice you dodged my question.

  • Michael Klatsky

    When the government designs or operates something that violates your rights – it is your civic duty to fight for your rights.

    While the old saying goes, they will write “he had the right-of-way” on your tombstone – that doesn’t mean you should give in.

    We have a system to determine right-of-way and it is our rule of law.

    You are saying to forget that the law is on your side – hide inside because the rules are ignored and you will be injured anyway.

    I am sure many people said the same things about wheelchair access before the ADA act and many other similar laws we take for granted.

  • ForrestalMN

    “hide inside because the rules are ignored and you will be injured anyway.” I imagine risks are everywhere, but I’m 56 years old. If I’m gonna go, I don’t want it to be from scooting around on a bicycle. Mine’s been gathering dust in the shed for going on the fourth summer, now.

  • Marcus Rugger

    This is not a might makes right society. If it was, then the only thing that should be on the road is semi-trucks. It’s only because of the legal protection by the law that you, in your tiny car, have any right on the road at all.

  • KY law says as far right as “practicable” … it is her judgement that she is doing just that… a) motorists see her better and don’t try to squeeze by when she rides in the wheel-well position in the right lane and b) the shoulder is covered with debris which would flatten her tires in less than a mile.

  • Dave M. Friedberg

    Hmmm. As a biker in Orlando I travel some heavy roads. Uh, don’t we as bikers have the same rights as scooter riders, motorcyclists, and auto drivers???? Isn’t it about time that DRIVERS learn the rules of the road and ticket the texters, make-up appliers, and phone talking drivers before ticketing a biker. The police officer needs to rethink this

  • Dave M. Friedberg

    Amen. Let drivers learn the rules. We have the same rights

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

For Raquel Nelson, Justice Still Elusive

|
Everyone was relieved to hear earlier this week that Raquel Nelson was spared jail time in the trial that sparked national outrage. But that doesn’t mean justice has been done for the mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide after a hit-and-run driver killed her 4-year-old son. All for simply attempting to navigate a busy, […]

For Raquel Nelson, Justice Still Elusive

|
Everyone was relieved to hear earlier this week that Raquel Nelson was spared jail time in the trial that sparked national outrage. But that doesn’t mean justice has been done for the mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide after a hit-and-run driver killed her 4-year-old son. All for simply attempting to navigate a busy, […]

Streetsies 2011: Bums and Bummers

|
On our walk down the memory lane of 2011 so far, we’ve talked about some downers, some inspirations, some triumphs, and some struggles. Check out our first two installments of year-end Streetsie award nostalgia. Here’s some more. Best Obama Plan That Died a Slow and Horrible Death This Year: How to choose, when there were […]