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.”

106 thoughts on Kentucky Mom Prevails Against Cops Who Criminalized Her Bike Commute

  1. That’s your choice to make. I’m 57 and will darn well ride my bike wherever I’m LEGALLY permitted. If we start to surrender our rights because in the due course of exercising that right we may get injured, maimed or killed, where do we stop? Give up the right to bear arms for fear that we may accidentally shoot ourselves? Give up free speech for fear that we may offend someone with our opinion? The right of free association for fear that someone will target the group for persecution? I will not go quietly or meekly into the dark!

  2. That air of superiority is exactly what you are demonstrating. It seems it may be something built into you all.

  3. This site has a lot of great information about taking the lane, including a comparison video (taking the lane vs. riding to the far right) shot on a similarly busy road in the Orlando area. I’m just glad I live in a town where there are alternate routes for cycling that usually aren’t too out of the way, so there’s no real need for me to spend much time on the highways. Bike lanes can be great, but they have some problems of their own.

  4. I grew up in Kentucky and lived in Lexington a total of six years on two separate occasions. So I know this road, and have, in fact, biked a portion of it in Fayette County. This is a wide, four-lane highway with very few traffic lights for most of the route between Lexington and Nicholasville. The shoulder is wide, though it does have a lot of debris. Nevertheless, it’s ridable, and isn’t much more debris-strewn than the protected bike lanes here in Chicago.

    The thing with this road, though, is that it’s built like a freeway, and traffic moves down it at 50 or 60 miles an hour. It’s somewhat hilly, meaning that there are points where a bicyclist in the lane won’t be visible until three or four seconds before a car is upon them. Now, Ms. Schill does have every right to take the lane. Kentucky should have built the road differently, and it is incumbent upon the drivers to watch for her. That said, she’s going to get hit if she takes the lane. There’s zero doubt about it. And when it happens, Kentucky law enforcement will shrug and say, “Told you so.” I’d get some thick tires and ride that road in shoulder.

  5. Unless it’s been updated again, I believe the wording is that they must consider accommodation for cycling. Instead of flat our saying “nope” they now have to say, “we thought about it, and, nope”. ūüôĀ

  6. She’s riding there to protest the lack of alternative cycling infrastructure. If there was an alternative choice that was safer and more convenient, you bet she would take it. I wish her the best of luck, not just for the court case but for change in her community.

  7. Maybe police should be enforcing against distracted driving which according to the jessamee county attorney “compounds” the safety argument.

  8. If more people would ride according to the law, that is use the part of the lane that they can legally ride a bike on, then this would come to a head. Right now, bikes in most states are considered vehicles and are allowed 3 feet of the traveled portion of the pavement or more depending on conditions, in many cases they legally have the entire lane, however almost all bikers I know ride to the extreme right side in the ditch, dirt, gravel shoulder and potholes to avoid getting run over. Drivers, just like that police officer, think the bike should not be out on the road and unfortunately that culture will not change until there are more bikes on the roadway. The prevailing attitude today is I am driving a car so I am in a hurry, but if you are on a bike, then you have plenty of time, so get out of my way. I commuted on a bike for years and my time is just as important as theirs and I am “one less car”. However when you are using a bike for transportation you don’t want to stop and fight off every loose dog and drive in the ditch for miles. How would motorists feel if they were on their way to work and had to stop every mile or so for other motorists that feel the lane is theirs alone, or to get out and pet some dog for 15 minutes. Try that on your way to work.

  9. If you’re 56 then you can remember when blacks were struggling to have their rights protected. People used the same logic you’re using to say that their behavior was dangerous and would get them killed. How many of those people were beaten and killed before the mindset of the country was changed?

    Of course now it’s the concept that because you’re operating a 4000 pound piece of machinery, instead acting out of hate, you’re somehow less responsible than you would be in any other circumstance for taking a human life.

  10. The principle is sound, but the physicality of the situation is that she is going to get hit by an auto going 60 mph. It’s only a matter of time

  11. Opus, I don’t know that it would require an expert to stay upright, but you’d want suitable (i.e., not skinny) tires. The video does make it clear that the shoulder is unusually terrible; it’s a pretty sad statement that they’d hassle her, instead of cleaning the shoulder regularly and see if that could lead to an acceptable compromise.

  12. Have you considered the possibility that they are superior? They’re quieter, safer for pedestrians, spewing much less CO2, using much less oil (spills, wars), and taking up far less public space. Ah, but they’re not humble, so none of that counts?

    And notice that it’s the car driving majority that is legally objecting to how this woman transports herself — are any cyclists in Minneapolis attempting to sue people for the mere act of driving on roads? Seems to me that you have it exactly backwards.

  13. Turn that around to a car: “The tires that came on your car are not suitable for driving to work, you will have to buy tires that are run-flat and bullet proof so you don’t get flats on the road twice a week.” Do you think ANYONE would put up with roads like that? Or require riding skills equivalent to doing movie stunt work every day driving a car to work?

    That’s the point I was getting at, we make roads so that anyone with basic skills can get from Point A to Point B without needing special abilities or equipment beyond 4 wheels and an engine and the ability to stop on command in a reasonable distance. The most difficult task on my driver’s license test was performing a 3-point turn on a 4 lane road with no other traffic, and that was in the ’70s when there was still some emphasis placed on actual driving skills. My kids had to make 4 right turns and remember to stop at the stop sign. Riding a bicycle should be the same way, riding the OEM tires until they wear out, and just being able to put on any tire in the bike store that fits the bike to replace them after the OEM tires wear out.

  14. I agree with you, except that we often sell bicycles with a really silly-ass idea of what a “tire” is. It’s not so much the skills, as the equipment that some of us think is totally reasonable on a bicycle.

  15. I did not dodge your question, at least not intentionally. My point is that it going to take people like Cherokee Schill to take a stand for their rights in order to change the culture of this country with its love affair with the automobile so that roads are safe to drive a bicycle on. I also pointed out that if she must use that route to get to work, which appears to be so out of necessity, she is safest driving where she is driving. If she gets hit, yes, God forbid, it will most likely be by a motorist who was bound to hit someone anyway and needs to have a consequence and be corrected in their driving. For the fact that you won’t accept these responses as answers is more a reflection of your car-bias than the directness of my answer.

  16. Sure, like a thousand years. She is safer driving her bicycle where she will be seen than joining the throngs of motorists in a game of “Be the first in line at the next red light”. Or in a game of “chicken” with a drunk driver.

  17. So let me get this straight… poor road design for shared travel= ban the bikes? How about instead car drivers remember all the rules they had to learn to earn the PRIVILEGE of a license instead of causing dangerous situations for law abiding citizens?

  18. Why choose to ride in the lane instead of on the shoulder?

    First of all debris and potholes in the shoulder. And cars turning into driveways will drive right over you.

    Second, visibility. More cyclists are hit by cars while riding on the right edge of the road by car drivers that don’t see them until too late.

    The driver that is “inconvenienced” by having to slow down and change lanes behind her may be pissed off, but at least he SAW her.

    A cyclist riding in the driving lane is visible to all drivers approaching from far behind well before they are noticed if they are on the shoulder.

    The inattentive driver drifts off onto the shoulder and clips the cyclist with a mirror or hits them directly. While managing their distraction, they still check the road ahead periodically, but miss the cyclist on the right. A cyclist in the lane stands out as an obstacle that must be avoided, just as another car, truck, motorcycle, farm vehicle, or horse buggy does, all of which are also permitted on the road.

    It’s a proven technique that works on multi-lane roads even though most drivers, police, and even many cyclists don’t understand it. And it is legal.

  19. No need for bike-specific lanes. She is using a perfectly good lane for her needs. She just needs the police to stop harassing her and start enforcing the laws with the drivers around her.

  20. Perhaps, but most people would never feel comfortable doing what she is doing and would prefer bike lanes. So would plenty of drivers I imagine.

  21. The situation of bicycling now is like non-smoking was decades ago. It was just assumed then that it was the right of smokers to inflict their habit on everyone else, anywhere and everywhere they wanted. That’s how the car-dependent presently treat those of us who want a little freedom from their chosen way of life. Attitudes change. This one will, too.

  22. You take this risk when you drive, too. Most people killed by drivers are other people in cars.

  23. Riding 18 miles/day for a year is about 12,410 miles and many hours, apparently mostly in the heaviest traffic that road handles. Your “zero doubt” doesn’t seem to match up with observation.

  24. Actually, most states allow cyclists to use the FULL lane. In many cases, the “3 feet” you talk about is subject to debris and parallel parked cars… can’t be used. I think what you might be citing is the 3 foot laws, which require drivers to give cyclists 3 feet of cushion when passing them, allowing crossing the yellow line to do so when safe. We’re actually MORE visible and safer in the lane than we are at the curb, riding with debris, dealing with parked cars opening their doors, and not within easy site of cars entering from driveways and cross streets. And don’t get me started about sidewalks, which are for pedestrians, and puts them at risk of being struck by bicycles… legal vehicles. Moreover, drivers aren’t looking for fast moving vehicles such as bicycles on sidewalks, which increases our danger as well. The entire lane is our RIGHT. That’s not to say some don’t abuse it… but most of us don’t fall into that category. We’re just not noticed because we don’t piss drivers off. We follow the law, use headlights and tail lights, signal our turns, and ride where it’s safest.

    FYI… it was the dawn of cycling that led to the smooth roads drivers now enjoy. They were smoothed because bicycles couldn’t safely deal with the ruts and muck that were caused by carriages. Oh, and carriages and buggies are vehicles too, as are tractors and bulldozers, etc. Like cyclists, they have to follow the same laws as well, and tend to often go even slower.

  25. That’s a dumb statement. Most things that are sure to happen aren’t observed until they happen.

  26. Likewise, things that don’t happen aren’t observed to happen. If you drive the same miles on the same roads you stand a chance of needing your jacked-up remains extracted from your car with the jaws of life. So much for being safer in a car than on a bike.

  27. Most people are ignorant of the reality of it. They just make a gut reaction to something they’ve never tried or done based on their inexperience.

    You can’t possibly build bike lanes on every road that a bicycle driver might need to use to get to their job,school, appointment, or other destination. No matter how many there are, sooner or later a bicycle driver needs to ride in traffic to get where they are going. Learning how to do that safely is essential. Motor vehicle drivers need to learn how to coexist safely with them as well.

    To refuse bicycle drivers access to the roads is discrimination. The reason they ride a bike is immaterial, but many of them are riding because they can’t drive a car. Some can’t afford it. Some have had their licenses revoked. Some just choose to ride for a number of reasons. But they are not all recreational riders who could ride anywhere. They have to be on that road to get where they are going.

  28. Now that is what is wrong with the three foot passing laws. They send a message that is misinterpreted by motorists and cyclists alike. The three foot rule says nothing about where the cyclist should ride. It doesn’t “give” them 3 feet of space in the lane. All it does is say that autos must give at least 3 feet of clearance when passing wherever the cyclist is. A far better solution would have been to require a full lane change to pass a bicycle, just as you would to pass another auto.

  29. I think she is just trying to get to work under the circumstances she is presented. Any “protest” came later.

    “Alternative cycling infrastructure” is a pipe dream. Yes, you can build a few miles here and there. You can waste a lot of money on it while we barely keep up with the maintenance of our existing roads. But there will never be a complete “Alternative cycling infrastructure” that complements our road and street system exclusive for bicycles. It’s just not practical. Therefore, bicyclists have to be able to use the existing infrastructure to get to places they need to go. That is what this is about, not bike paths and lanes.

  30. Please learn about the best practices for road and cycling infrastructure:
    Yes, cycling infrastructure needs to be provided along main routes – we have the space to do it, we have the funds to do it (it will ultimately save money), but we don’t have the will to do it.

  31. You missed what Doc Wu said though… anyone riding a bike for transportation will eventually be on a road without perfect infrastructure, and needs to know to how ride in the road safely. Unfortunately, most bike advocates clamoring for more bike lanes and cycling paths don’t realize that they aren’t any safer because they only add intersections or put the bike lane alongside parked cars, which are exactly the places where collisions happen most (not in road lanes even though that’s where the perceived risk is).

  32. Yes, bike lanes in the door zone and poorly engineered intersections are worse than nothing, but few are going to cycle if they have to ride in the same lane as cars.

    If you don’t want anyone but the one percenters to cycle, then sure don’t build anything. But as the Dutch and Danish show us, it is possible to build high quality infrastructure and if you build it they will come. Have a look at the link I posted to see how practical and safe infrastructure is built.

  33. “she’s going to get hit if she takes the lane” is an open-ended prediction. Probability says that is true. Probability also says if you lock 100 monkeys in a room with typewriters, they will eventually bang out the works of Shakespeare.

    Look, it’s a dangerous road. We get that. What she is doing by riding in the lane is maximizing her visibility, giving motorists more time to see her and react. It’s a proven and effective technique that is legal and used by many knowledgeable cyclists. She is safer in the lane than on the shoulder.

    The issue isn’t how she is riding, it’s how ignorant motorists are allowed to harass her and the indifferent police are refusing to do anything about it or to help her. Instead, they are also actively harassing her with unfounded citations.

    It’s a civil rights issue, where a class of people, cyclists, are being treated differently than everyone else, and being denied a right that others are allowed to enjoy. It’s a prejudice towards vehicular cycling on the part of motorists who are ignorant of the law, law enforcement officials, and frankly, by other cyclists who are too weak-minded or not accomplished enough to understand the principles of riding a bicycle as a vehicle.

    In a day and age where soaring gas prices and environmental concerns should make us welcome those who choose to ride a bicycle to commute, they instead are making life miserable for a single mother who can’t afford to keep a car on the road and just wants to get to work. This isn’t a joyride. It’s not an exercise routine that can be done anywhere, any time. It’s her life. She’s trying to keep it together for her family and to keep her job instead of giving up and going on the public dole. Instead of harassing her, give her a break (literally) and leave her alone.

  34. Your question was rhetorical, a statement posed as a question.

    “What good does standing up for your rights do?” I’m sure there were people saying that in 1776 when the colonists were fighting the British too. Sometimes, you just have to take a stand for what is right.

  35. Instead of trying to get her off the roads, they should be trying to get people out of their cars. 10% of the population has diabetes.

  36. She’s wearing a bright yellow reflective vest. If you can’t see her you probably need to get your eyes checked. Keep on pedaling lady!

  37. Cool. My guess is that the cops who wrote her tickets just might respond to the hit and run that kills her and they will stand over her corspe and talk about how right she was.

  38. The roads are for everyone. Travelling them in a 2-ton magic chariot doesn’t give you any more rights than anyone else.

  39. Interestingly enough, the one nation that has extensive and expanding bicycle infrastructure separate from cars has found that the more bike infrastructure they build, the less road maintenance they have to do. More bikes mean fewer cars and trucks on the roads and those roads last longer.

  40. And more than a third are obese with hypertension caused by inactivity. Conversely the industrialized nation with the lowest rate of all of the above is also the nation with the highest rate of transportation by bicycles. They also seem to be the tallest people, not sure if that’s related to cycling but I wouldn’t be surprised…

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