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Bike Commuting and Social Justice in Kentucky

by Melanie Colavito

The name Cherokee Schill is going viral this week. If you haven’t heard of Cherokee yet, here’s her story (as I have pieced together from the Interwebs).Earlier this year, Cherokee first made the news after she was ticketed three times for “reckless driving”. Cherokee is a single mother of two who bike commutes 18 miles each way to her job at Webasto, a car parts manufacturer. She must report to work by 6am, so she leaves in the wee hours of the morning. She hasn’t been able to find carpooling options, and commuter services don’t leave early enough for her to utilize them. Her 1992 Camry has a mere 360,000 miles on it, so that’s not a reliable option either.Which leaves Cherokee with the bicycle. A most reliable – not to mention affordable, for a single mother – option.She travels from Nicholasville, Kentucky, to Lexington, Kentucky, which requires that she ride on U.S. 27, a major highway in northern Jessamine County. Just out of curiosity, I looked at Google Maps to see what the options are for her commute. Here’s the recommended car route, which is 11.9 miles (I don’t know where exactly she’s coming from or going to, of course) along U.S. 27. The recommended bike route is significantly longer at 17.4 miles (again, we don’t know exactly where she’s departing and arriving), though likely it uses less traveled (but not necessarily safer) roads. Since the news has reported her commute as being 18 miles already using U.S. 27, we can assume the extra 5.5 miles of the recommended bike route is probably more than she has time for, since she has to get to work at 6am.Before I go on, the woman has some serious cojones for riding on a major highway. I would only do that if it were seriously my only option. So if we give her the benefit of the doubt, and assume this really is her only option, then that is a real bummer. Anyone who has ever spent a minute on a highway on their bicycle knows it is not fun, and it can be utterly terrifying for even the most experienced cyclist. Yet Cherokee does it everyday to get to work. Because she has no other choice. Man…

On a happier note, she is glad to report that she has gone from a pant size of 22 to a pant size of 8 due to all the great exercise she’s been getting.But now she’s dealing with a legal battle. After her initial legal issuesthis past April, a judge upheld her right to ride on U.S. 27. But the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t too happy about this, arguing that she posed a danger to herself and motorists alike.As a side note, Kentucky considers bicycles to be legal vehicles (here’s the bike law). So that means slow moving vehicles need to move to the right, and Cherokee claims to always ride as far right as is practicable. However, she does not ride in the shoulder, which she argues is dangerous due to rumble strips and other debris. And we all know that rumble strips and bicycles do not play nice.But it is a little hard to tell from the news stories how viable an option the shoulder of U.S. 27 would be for riding. Dodging some debris for the safety of the shoulder is one thing, but if the shoulder isn’t even ridable, that’s another thing. The picture above shows a decent shoulder, which I would certainly prefer over the traffic lane. But I’ve never been there, so I don’t know what it’s really like on a bike.Anyway, back to the legal battle. Just last Friday, she was found guilty of three counts of careless driving, as well as other traffic violations. She has been ordered to pay upwards of $400, as well as legal fees. I’m sure that is a pleasant surprise for a single, working mother of two.But that didn’t stop Cherokee. I mean, she still had to get to work to pay her legal fees and feed her family, so she kept riding. So this Tuesday, Cherokee was arrested and charged with 2nd degree wanton endangerment. For riding her bike. Geez, Kentucky! Really?Oh, and the District Judge who initially sentenced her reportedly told her, “I will caution you at this point you want to avoid any further violations of the law. I’m not telling you that you can’t have your bicycle out there. We’ve established that bicycles have some rights out there.” I take that to mean she is still legally allowed to ride her bike, so why was she arrested?So in sum, there is currently a woman in Kentucky who is in jail for riding her bike. Not only is this just ridiculous, it’s also a social justice issue. She is a poor, working mother who doesn’t have any other options. For so many of us, bike commuting is a luxury and a choice. I can afford not to ride my bike on a highway, thank goodness. But that’s not the case for everyone.kentucky-cyclist-caseThere is currently a fund to help with Cherokee’s legal fees, if you feel so inclined. In the meantime, maybe Kentucky could consider better bike infrastructure or expand their mass transit options. But the bottom line is that no one should be in jail for legally riding their bike. There has to be a better way to deal with this situation.Update 9/18/14I have a friend who lives in the same area and actually bike commutes on U.S. 27. However, my friend uses the shoulder of U.S. 27 and feels that it is a perfectly safe place to ride (and not surprisingly, preferable to the main vehicle lane). So it seems that perhaps there is more to this story than what can be pieced together via the web (also not surprising). Since Cherokee doesn’t seem to have some greater political message she’s promoting or other reason for riding in the main roadway, it seems that her perception of where it is safest to ride is perhaps somewhat distorted, making the shoulder seem less safe than the main roadway. I find this a completely odd as I would never prefer the main roadway to the shoulder, rumble strips to be crossed or not. Although it is her right to ride in the main road when there is no safe alternative, it may be the case that she has made that her preferred lane, which isn’t something I can really support when the shoulder appears to be safe for riding. This poses the question of whether it’s simply a lack of bicycle know-how on her part or something else. Still, it seems that the law enforcement on the issue has been rather harsh. Anyhow, an interesting development nonetheless.

 
BOB Trailer x 2

12 Responses to “Bike Commuting and Social Justice in Kentucky”

  1. John M. Hammer says:

    The guilty verdicts are complete nonsense. I hope that she and her legal team are taking this to appeal. The verdict is completely contraindicated by the law.

    Just to note, I have read elsewhere that – regardless of the status of her automobile – her right to drive has been suspended. I don’t have a link to that, sorry. And I don’t think it has any bearing on the case or her right to operate her bicycle according to the law (which I think she has been doing).

    There are roads around here (suburban NYC and Nassau County) that I don’t like to ride on and would be loathe to commute on daily. But there’s usually nothing wrong with the ROAD; it’s the behavior of impatient and aggressive AUTOMOBILE DRIVERS that cause problems. Still, if my only choice were to commute on those roads by bike or lose my home/fail to feed my family, I’d commute on those roads.

    Telling someone that they can’t use a public road (other than a limited-access highway) is denying people who can’t use a car – for whatever reason – their right to travel.

  2. matt says:

    The League of American Bicyclists should litigate this. Sounds like a good test case to establish bicycle riding rights.

  3. Kevin Love says:

    Or maybe it is your friend’s perception that is somewhat distorted.

  4. Geoffrey W Preckshot says:

    This woman is a nut-ball. No sane person would ride even the slow lane of a US highway if there were any kind of shoulder to ride on. If the shoulder is poor (which that one doesn’t seem to be), then you ride a well equipped mountain bike with street tires to deal with the rough roadbed.

    Regardless of rights, bikes do NOT dance well with cars. This woman is trying to prove something which is not apparent from the article and there is a “rest of the story” yet to be told.

  5. I get frustrated when I have to drive behind a bike sometimes. Not because they are slow, but because I am scared I might hit them. So I do understand the concern for safety. But even for me, this story is ridiculous. Considering a judge already gave her legal right, she should be able to still ride.

  6. Steve A says:

    Does your friend base his/her opinion on the safety of the shoulder from any cycling safety instruction received? If so, what was the instructing agency, LAB or Cycling Savvy or ????

  7. As some others who have commented, I question the validity of your friend’s opinion.

    I’ve ridden that road, and I’ve driven it. There is–perhaps–a fifty-yard stretch of shoulder that is viable, IF it isn’t littered with broken glass or parts of furniture that has fallen from passing traffic.

    Anyone who claims otherwise is ignorant (using that term in its neutral sense, not pejorative) of the very real dangers inherent in using pavement to the side of the travel lanes.

    For a much clearer analysis of those dangers, see: http://iamtraffic.org/equality/the-cherokee-schill-case/#comment-785

    What people who claim that the shoulder is usable forget is that Ms Schill TRIED using the shoulder, and was frequently experiencing the sorts of conflicts described in the blog post linked above. Once she started using the travel lane, those dangers were reduced by orders of magnitude.

    There are also the issues surrounding perceptions of safety compared to actual safety. Humans are not generally good at comparing the differences. Again, I refer the reader to the I am Traffic essay linked earlier.

    Several comments here question the sanity of using the travel lane, the apparent assumption being that she will inevitably be hit from behind. There is with many of these posters a clear assumption that a cyclist is somehow a less-rightful road user than a motorist; that a motorist has some inherent right of speed; that a cyclist is somehow responsible for the incompetence of any other road user.

    I am but one of many cyclists who has tens of thousands of miles ridden on similar roads, with similar results: We see motorists change lanes to pass at *hundreds* of yards distance behind us. We know from experience that a competent motorist can figure out a cyclist is using the travel lane at line of sight–more than a quarter of a mile on the road in question.

    At sixty miles an hour, it takes fifteen seconds to cover that quarter mile. When I took driver’s education classes thirty-some years ago, I was taught to keep a two-second buffer between my car and the car ahead, to give me time to react should the road user ahead of me stop suddenly. Anyone rushing up behind a cyclist that can be seen at over a quarter mile is either not paying adequate attention to driving (certainly not the cyclist’s fault) or willfully endangering other road users (again, certainly not the cyclist’s fault, and in a just world actionable behavior not proof that the cyclist is doing wrong).

  8. There are two very interesting posts over at Bike League about this case.

    The first is by Steve Clark who recently had the opportunity to ride with Schill on the very route on which she has been ticketed and arrested. He notes in his post how the shoulder felt like a safer place, but that it was difficult to use because it was inconsistent, so he ended up having to use the travel lane, since it wasn’t feasible to get in and out of the shoulder. Anyhow, I recommend you check it out.

    The second is an update on the laws in question with this case. It’s helpful for understanding the context a bit more.

    And in response to the comments about my friend’s judgement of the shoulder, I would just say that I completely trust her perception of a safe place to ride. We spent years racing and training together at the professional level on the road. We always emphasized riding defensively and respectfully, as we had to spend a lot of time on the roads and wanted to have a good relationship with motorists. Then again, a pro-level cyclist may be more comfortable navigating tricky road debris or merging in and out of traffic to use the shoulder. Maybe. I can’t say how comfortable Schill is with this, as I haven’t ridden with her.

    It’s impossible for me to really say what’s best, as I haven’t been on this particular road. Again, what seems safe to one cyclist may not seem safe to another, and I think that is exactly what is going on in this case. As Clark notes in his piece about riding with Schill, she is doing exactly what the Bike League recommends when it’s not safe to ride in the shoulder.

    It will be interesting to follow what happens with her appeal.

  9. Steve A says:

    Not to belabor a point, but the article by Steve Clark says your friend, in this case, is wrong. Worse, your post second guesses the judgment of a cyclist based on speculation. That’s something I expect from motorist newspaper comments, not from this blog.

  10. What’s most interesting to me is how passionate people feel one way or the other about this story. Some cyclists are very much supportive of Schill while others are not. As I have been very careful to point out, I have not personally ridden the road nor with her. That leaves me to piece together only what I can find on the web with information from a person I trust. My post is quite supportive of Schill, posing this as a social justice issue, though somewhat mediated by contradictory information from various sources (i.e. what I can read on the web vs. what a trusted local source thinks). One way or the other, I don’t think she should be treated this way by law enforcement, I hope she wins her appeal, and I hope the area gets some better bike infrastructure to prevent things like this from happening again.

  11. Cheryl says:

    Cherokee does not ride her bicycle because she has no other options. She made the choice to not have a car when she was arrested multiple times for DUIs, which led to her LOSING HER DRIVERS LICENSE!!!!

    Furthermore, if you would like to take the time to watch her UTUBE videos she has posted, you will see that she thrives on the daily confrontations she encounters from people. She enjoys every bit of attention she gets. I can’t believe people are stupid enough to give her money for her legal fees!!

  12. Cherokee Schill says:

    Hello,

    It’s me. I found this blog post when searching for information on funding for cycle paths on U.S. 27 a.k.a Nicholasville Road.

    1. I am not now, nor have I ever had my license suspended for intoxicated driving.
    2. My license was suspended in New York state for an unpaid speeding ticket.
    3. There was a change in management where I worked and all over time was cut out and our work week was reduced to 35 hours a week.
    4. I couldn’t afford insurance on the car and my license was suspended in KY for failure to maintain insurance.
    5. U.S. 27 sometimes has a shoulder, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes that shoulder is between intersections and has broken glass and I’d be safer in the travel lane, away from right turning motorists. The rumble strip and broken pavement are pretty consistent.
    6. I was harassed when I was on the shoulder, I was harassed when I wasn’t on the shoulder. It just didn’t matter. People like Cheryl (I don’t have a clue as to who she really is) are the norm in a typical redneck, white privilege, Misogynistic, and conservative/tea-party part of the woods.
    7. The alternative roads are much longer as you noted. What you wouldn’t be aware of (unless you went onto street view in Google maps) is that there aren’t any services or places to rest. There aren’t any neighbors to knock on doors if I needed help and it was sparsely traveled in the wee sma hours of the morning. Making it especially dangerous to a woman. I went long periods without a cell phone to call for help due to financial constraints.
    8. The added trip time going an alternative route added an hour (minimum) to my commute.
    9. I have children to take care of and I’m needed at home just as much as someone who drives a car.
    10. My car (which I recently gave to a former co-worker) is a 1992 Toyota Camry and it was on its last leg. I had paid to have it repaired and couldn’t afford gas, insurance, and the car repair. Which is when my carefully balanced life fell apart. (Yes, I gave it to them for free because that’s the kind of person I am.)
    11. I didn’t want to set up the gofundme account. I didn’t want anyone to do anything except leave me alone and let me take care of my family the best way I could.
    12. Nicholasville police ticketed me two more times and I knew this was going to get messy. So at the urging of out of state bicycle advocates I set up the gofundme account.
    13. I didn’t lose my first three tickets because the prosecutor was so brilliant in his arguments. I lost my case because the local attorney didn’t represent me. I mean he really dropped the ball on this one. I was able to get Steve Magus to come in and help at the last minute but the damage was done by the first lawyer.
    14. If I agreed to leave town and drop the appeal all charges would be dropped and all fines and court costs with the first three tickets would be waived. All subsequent charges against me would be dropped.
    15. I am legally banned from U.S. 27 in Jessamine Co. for two years as part of the agreement to leave and have all fines, court costs, and charges dropped and in two years my new attorney will have the first three tickets expunged and it will be like none of this ever happened.
    16. The club rider who had the friend who said the shoulder was fine, (sounds like a childhood game of whispers) is most likely thinking of U.S. 68 which does have rumble strip free shoulders and predominantly smooth pavement. It also isn’t consistent but I have learned that the local club riders prefer to ride forward in right turn only lanes. Creating unpredictable and law breaking habits that local motorists have come to understand as “Normal” bicycle behavior. So when they see someone obeying the law it just looks funny to them.
    17. The local advocates advocate for door zone bike lanes and they have labeled me as a destroyer of bicycle culture because I think gutter and door zone bike lanes are more dangerous than using the travel lane.
    18. I’m alive and in one piece while their supporters have been killed in bike lanes and lost a limb in the aforementioned bike lane.
    19. I support infrastructure that ends car culture.
    20. I spent a lot of time reading state statutes and studying bicycle safety. I have taken two cycling safety courses. The T.S. 101 and Cycling Savvy. I am also an L.C.I. and intend on becoming a C.S.I. as well.

    I hope that clarified some questions you had.

    I’m not on an agenda. I just found the safest way to make a bad commute better and it pissed the ignorant locals off and scared the bejeebers out of the local club riders.

    P.S. lot’s of people offered me free cars. I never accepted any of those offers. Being car free is an amazing freedom and I wouldn’t want to give that up.
    I am currently homeless and jobless thanks to Jessamine Co. so I’m looking for work.
    I have worked as an administrative assistant, medical receptionist, qualified teachers assistant, and various other clerical work. I am A+ certified, forklift certified, and CET certified.
    Thanks.

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