NICHOLASVILLE — In a case watched by bicyclists inside and outside Kentucky, a woman who commutes by bike via U.S. 27 from Nicholasville to Lexington was found Friday to have violated a law on careless driving.
Jessamine District Court Judge Bill Oliver also found that Cherokee Schill had violated a law requiring slow-moving vehicles to move to as far to the right "as practicable." Oliver imposed fines and court costs of $433, which Schill has a year to pay.
Schill, 41, said she plans to appeal the judge's decision, which came at the end of a day-long trial.
She argued that the shoulder is hazardous because of debris and rumble strips that could cause her to fall. Her expert witnesses and defense attorneys argued that it is safer for a cyclist to be in the lane of travel so that cars behind her can see her clearly and have time to brake or merge left.
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Schill said the judge's ruling seems to ask her "to operate my bicycle carelessly by weaving in and out of traffic — going off the roadway, going forward, and then going off the roadway again, which is much, much more dangerous than just riding a straight line and operating predictably."
She added, "I'm not going to change how I ride."
Schill, the mother of two teenagers, said in an interview this year that she commutes by bike to help keep her household afloat and to reduce expenses. She said she has a car, but it is not dependable.
Schill was ticketed in Jessamine County three times this year, once while she was returning from her job at Webasto on Lexington's north side and twice while she was en route to off-work activities.
She is no longer employed by Webasto but attends classes in Lexington to be an EKG technician.
Police officers who had ticketed her said she was causing a safety hazard for motorists on U.S. 27. Some 43,000 motor vehicles travel that section of road in northern Jessamine County each day, according to state traffic counts.
In each citation, the judge found that Schill could have used the shoulder rather than operating her bike in the roadway.
Before trial, Schill was cited only with three counts of careless driving. But on Friday immediately before trial, Assistant County Attorney Eric Wright added three more counts that said Schill had violated the following subsection of Kentucky law: "The operator of any vehicle moving slowly upon a highway shall keep his vehicle as closely as practicable to the right-hand boundary of the highway, allowing more swiftly moving vehicles reasonably free passage to the left."
A rule of criminal procedure allows a prosecutor to add charges to clarify a citation, Wright said. He emphasized repeatedly that bikes are vehicles and, as such, must comply with all laws that apply to vehicles.
Kentucky defines "highway" as the lane of travel and the shoulder; for that reason, moving "as closely as practicable to the right-hand boundary" means moving to the shoulder, Wright said.
On roads where there are no paved shoulders and the cyclist has nowhere else to go, Oliver said the responsibility lies more with the motorist to give leeway to the cyclist.
But where a paved shoulder is available, Oliver said the responsibility lies more with the cyclist to choose a safer option.
Addressing Schill directly, Oliver said, "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 would encourage you to be careful," Oliver said. "Almost every moment there is a different situation where you have to decide whether you have the right to be where you are or if you need to be further to the right. That's not an easy thing for you to do or for anyone else. But it is, I think under the current law, what you have to do."
Steve Magas was co-defense counsel for Schill along with Chuck Ellinger. Magas, whose practice is in Cincinnati, has represented cyclists in Ohio and elsewhere.
"This is the only case that I'm aware of in the country where a bicyclist who has a right to ride on the road has been ordered off the road," Magas said. "The question was, how does this impact nationally? I don't think it does. I think what it does is irritate cyclists and make them want to affect some change in Kentucky."