The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has released the name of the man who was killed yesterday while bicycling on NW Cornell Road in Cedar Mill (just west of the Portland city boundary).
The victim is Kirke Johnson, a 70-year old former employee at Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus. He worked in the school’s IT department for over 20 years and just retired last week. People who knew Johnson remember him as being a prolific and very experienced rider who logged thousands of miles a year on his recumbent (which he was riding at the time of the collision).
He was also a regular commenter here on BikePortland. Under the screen name “bikesalot” he published about 100 comments dating back to early 2009.
The Sheriff’s Office has also released an update about the collision, saying that their investigation shows, “the truck turned into the path of the bicyclist causing them to collide.” Investigators have also determined that “inattentiveness” was likely a contributing factor in the collision and that citations might be possible after the investigation is completed.
“Over the years Kirke was very involved in community action involving improving bicycle safety on NW Cornell Rd. He went to numerous meetings involving the county and other groups concerned with Cornell Rd. infrastructure.”
— Deborah Hartman, a friend who knew him for over 30 years.
According to friends and those who knew Johnson, he was “obsessed” with logging his miles on BikeJournal.com, a site that ranks users based on how far they’ve ridden. Johnson was also a member of the Oregon Human Powered Vehicle Association and he was the leader of PCC Sylvania’s Bike Commute Challenge Team. An internal PCC email sent out Thursday night and shared by BikePortland commenter Marc Rose said that Kirke, “was a careful cyclist who had been commuting by bike to work for the past 10 years, and had been planning a cross-country bicycle trip with his wife this winter.”
Commenter Pat Franz knew Johnson and told us that he was “very experienced, very visible, and very careful.” He was also very familiar with the Cornell/Barnes intersection where he was hit and he lived nearby. Franz also said that Johnson always rode with lights and usually had a bright yellow fairing wrapped around his long wheelbase recumbent.
“He routinely rode over 10,000 miles a year on his bike,” Franz wrote, “He knew about lane positioning, blind spots, and how to stay safe. That this still happened to him is a real shock… If the truck had given any indication it was doing anything other than going straight, Kirke would not have let himself be anywhere near the danger zone, I am sure of that. It is sobering and beyond sad that he was struck anyway.”
In 2007, Johnson was featured in an article on the PCC website:
He got into biking as a kid where he rode a three-speed on dirt mining camp roads in New Mexico. Johnson said he never took biking seriously until his daughter entered the Seattle to Portland cycling event a few years ago. Seeing how much fun it was for her, Johnson started looking for the right kind of bike to suit him. He didn’t like traditional cycles because they weren’t comfortable for him so he turned to recumbent bikes where the rider sits back as if in a chair. When he found the right cycle, he fitted it with a body sock to get a streamline effect. Johnson has been commuting to the Sylvania Campus from his home on Skyline Boulevard in northwest Portland several times a week ever since.
“I spent winter learning how to ride it,” he said. “You don’t want to know how many hills I walked up with the recumbent before I got into good enough condition to ride up all the way. The long wheelbase is not ideal for congested areas, but is good for the open road. You have to make an allowance and choose proper routes. Most of my crashes have been where I’ve been stopped and I lose balance.”
Johnson was well-known among recumbent riders in the Pacific Northwest. A post in the popular BentRiderOnline forums laments his passing and points out how, coupled the recent passing of Marilyn Hayward, “the Portland recumbent community has been hit hard in the last couple weeks.”
A longtime friend of Johnson’s left a comment last night saying that he was actively involved in advocating for bicycle safety on exact same road he died on. “Over the years Kirke was very involved in community action involving improving bicycle safety on NW Cornell Rd,” a commenter named Deborah Hartman wrote, “He went to numerous meetings involving the county and other groups concerned with Cornell Rd. infrastructure.”
“This is simply tragic,” she continued. “He worked all his life to live his dream of cycling in his retirement… I am heartbroken.”
We haven’t heard anything about a memorial service but will update this post if we do.