As easy as riding a bike - or not
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's a simple question thousands of cyclists have to answer every day: Where am I supposed to ride my bike when there isn't a bike lane?
- In the middle of the lane?
- On the far right?
- On the road shoulder?
- On the sidewalk?
The answer is literally a matter of life and death.
Cars stack up behind Cherokee Schill, but she's used to it. Schill rides in the middle of the lane. She also has read the regulations.
"KRS189.3406A says you shall occupy as much of your lane as possible," said Schill.
Biking 18 miles each way to work near Lexington, Schill was stopped a lot. She recalled what happened during two of those stops.
"He says you're not doing anything wrong," said Schill about being stopped by one officer. Her encounter with a second officer started differently.
"He pulled out his book, he's like look, I'm gonna show you what the law says," Schill said. "So we started to read the statute together and were going through it and he stopped halfway through. I said no, it continues, so we read it all the way through til the end and he stopped, looked at it, looked at the road..."
But other officers took a stand in citing her seven times for "careless driving."
"They had it in their mind that I was doing something wrong and they were going to cite me," said Schill.
Schill went to trial on all seven at once. The judge ruled she should have ridden on the road shoulder instead of on the roadway. She lost.
Chips Cronen lost too ... lost his life.
"Threw him into this girder," said George Cronen, Chips' son.
His father was knocked by a van into girder 55 on the Clark Memorial Bridge as he pedaled home on the right side of the right lane.
"Had he been claiming his lane, or had he been on the sidewalk, he would be alive," said Cronen. "But he followed the rules of the road. So he was in the right. But unfortunately he was dead right."
Kentucky law says a bicyclist is no different from a motorist, has to obey the same traffic rules, can't use the sidewalk, can't ride more than two abreast, as a slower moving vehicle, has to drive as closely as practical to the right hand boundary. And when there are at least three lanes, can get out and claim the lane.
The problem is there's a big difference between the regulations and reality. There is a lot of confusion and road rage on the streets. But this time, I had a camera to record what happens.
Kentucky law says passing cars have to be at least three feet away. When I ride as far to the right as I can, vehicles miss me by inches.
When I get out there and claim my lane, it gets worse. When people pulling trailers go by, they forget about the trailers when the pass and cut me off.
On River Road, a key artery under public debate right now, cars and trucks often refuse to move over. When I ask other cyclists what they do, the answers vary.
"Claim my lane," said one woman. "I hate to do that to other people but you can't let someone cut you that close."
"People are crazy," said her riding partner. "They don't like bicycles and I definitely try to stay as far right as I can."
The law mandates we ride "as closely as practical" to the right because the right side of the road is often a dangerous, potholed mess or we get slapped by bushes and trees. The road shoulders, the place where Schill was told to ride, often have rumble strips and busted glass.
Extra lanes don't help. As far over to the right as I can get, with another lane to my left, sideswipes continued. On the far right of the far right lane, some refused to move over. It happened dozens of times in a three hour tour around Louisville.
"So it's like we have this complete lack of knowledge of what is safe on a public right of way," said Schill.
While Schill was cited seven times for careless driving between Nicholasville and Lexington, guess how many times Louisville Metro police have ticketed cyclists in the past seven years? Our open records request for that answer returned one. That was in 2011 for disregarding a stop sign.
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