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Friends remember Kirke Johnson, identified as man killed in Cedar Mill collision

Posted by on November 21st, 2014 at 9:06 am

johnsonlead

Kirke Johnson.
(Photos: Portland Community College)

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.”

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This photo was posted to Facebook by Kirke’s daughter Heather Johnson.

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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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peejay
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peejay

I used to ride through that intersection daily when I worked in the area from 2006-2011. Bike wide bike lanes that do not feel in the least bit safe, heavy traffic that was not alleviated by a big road-widening project in ~2009, and car-dependent development that just connected one parking lot to the next. I never felt comfortable there, and had quite a few near-misses on that stretch.

Frequently, the traffic backs up on Cornell, and right-turning cars try to sneak by in the bike lane to get to Barnes. He only way to prevent this is to finally realize that we need fully grade-separated bike facilities. I’m not holding my breath.

spencerr
Guest
spencerr

It is complete and utter bullsh_t that our society and roadways allow people to be killed or maimed due to negligence. Its time for vision zero to come to fruition. RIP Kirke. My wife and I shed a tear although we only knew you on the road.

TOM
Guest
TOM

would a flag on Kirke’s bike have made much difference ? ie: more visible to the truck.

Dan
Guest
Dan

An 18-year-old was killed walking on 119th in broad daylight a few years ago, just a 1/4 mile from there. No changes have been made to the road or signage since then. The bike lane on Cornell completely disappears a block from this location, after Saltzman, though there is plenty of space there to widen the paving there and restripe. There doesn’t appear to me to be any commitment to fix this area.

onegearsnear
Guest
onegearsnear

RIP Kirke. So sad about his passing and sad that the first line in KPTV’s “newscast” this am stated that he was “on a recumbent without a flashing light or apparent flag making him difficult to see”. Always blame it on the cyclist…

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Flags don’t help if the driver doesn’t look in the mirror or if the truck cab is positioned so that the mirror doesn’t show the bike.

Many drivers don’t look in their right outside mirror (or, for cars, over their right shoulder) when turning right from the curbside lane. They know no car can be between them and the curb, and they overlook the possibility of a bike. I think professional drivers are often better-trained, but not always.

Trikeguy
Guest
Trikeguy

TOM
would a flag on Kirke’s bike have made much difference ? ie: more visible to the truck.
Recommended 0

I use a flag because I’m lower and don’t have the massive visual footprint of a fully socked LWB bike. That said, I really doubt that, if you miss the big yellow blob you’ll see the couple of square feet of flag that’s basically edge on to anyone looking down the bike lane.

Champs
Guest
Champs

I have bad memories of riding at that intersection, but nothing quite like this.

Safety tip: trailers make wide turns, and the turn signals are pretty pathetic, especially for their size. A slow-rolling semi in the opposite lane is not something to filter out of your attention. Check its signals, because that truck can quickly become a very large thing right in front of you.

daisy
Guest
daisy

If driver inattentiveness is the problem, then it doesn’t really matter what we do, all. Let’s be careful not to suggest a small piece of metal and plastic flag could have presented a tragedy we know few details about.

My condolences to Kirke’s family. It seems especially sad to me that he just retired — so many miles not biked!

KAT
Guest

This makes me sick! What an awful way for him to go. Especially since he was a passionate and devoted bicyclist. In addition, he was a strong advocate who encouraged others to consider riding as opposed to driving to work.

I remember seeing him once as he left the dentist office. It was spring time and the rain was coming down thick with big fat drops. There he was, suiting up with meticulous attention to his armor.
Then I saw him climb on the strangest contraption I had ever seen. Knowing he was an avid bicycle rider, I connected the dots. There he was, riding away in the traffic with only his head poking out of what looked like a large yellow banana that served as a body canoe. I laughed out loud in awe of his vehicle. What a genius and practical apparatus. Since then I saw him riding all over the place. He impressed me with his dedication to riding his odd looking piece of fruit. I appreciated his remarkable endurance as well as a healthy, strong and slender individual. I cannot say my big and fat old butt would be able to endure the same.

Thank you Kirke for all your patience with me. You were always benevolent and had unflappable kindness with my ignorance of technological abilities. You truly earned my esteem as an intelligent “Geek”, where I can only call myself “Nerd” and may one day aspire to a ”Geek Wanna-be.” Many people will always remember you. Genuinely Kirke, you will be missed.

Bicyclists Belong In The Traffic Lane
Guest

TOM
would a flag on Kirke’s bike have made much difference ? ie: more visible to the truck.
Recommended 0

Probably not. The most likely scenario is the truck passed Kirke, then slowed in preparation for the right turn. As the truck slowed, Kirke caught up with the truck and began passing it on the right, in the truck driver’s blind spot. This happens to me too, with regular cars that don’t have to slow as much, much less with trucks, except I don’t like my front wheel go past the rear of bumper of the vehicle. I slow down and get behind the vehicle; often passing on its left. Never on the right!

Did you get the memo? Read the memo, please! Here’s the memo:

http://iamtraffic.org/resources/interactive-graphics/what-cyclists-need-to-know-about-trucks/

Bicyclists Belong In The Traffic Lane
Guest

daisy
If driver inattentiveness is the problem, then it doesn’t really matter what we do, all. Let’s be careful not to suggest a small piece of metal and plastic flag could have presented a tragedy we know few details about.
My condolences to Kirke’s family. It seems especially sad to me that he just retired — so many miles not biked!
Recommended 5

As long as we keep thinking the problem is motorist inattentiveness, we’ll never solve the problem.

Please study this carefully. All bicyclists should. Our lives are at stake.

http://iamtraffic.org/resources/interactive-graphics/what-cyclists-need-to-know-about-trucks/

Bill V.
Guest
Bill V.

I live in the neighborhood and saw this cyclist around often. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him, many years ago. My exact thought was, “that’s not safe, and he’s going to get killed doing that.”

Brian Johnson
Guest
Brian Johnson

I live in a different neighborhood and see people driving cars around often. My exact thought is always the same: “That’s not safe, and they’re going to either get killed or kill someone else doing that.”

Bill V. what are you talking about? What’s not safe? Walking? Riding a bike? Driving a car? Smoking? Playing American Football? Sunbathing?

PJT
Guest
PJT

“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.”

“the truck turned into the path…”

“them”. It doesn’t seem like there is any “them” involved. How about “…the path of the bicyclist hitting (or striking) Mr. Johnson.”

Peter W
Guest

Noooooooooooooooooo.

Michelle Poyourow put me in contact with Kirke back in December of 2006 and he gave me advice on bike advocacy I was doing at PCC. The Rock Creek campus used to have basically non-existent bike parking and before long they put in more racks and some lockers. That was years ago, but I don’t think that would have happened without Kirke’s advice and support. I recall that he was a very nice guy.

Such a tragic loss. My heart goes out to his family.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Kirke was my Facebook friend and a frequent contributor to my bicycle safety blog. I have never met him in person, but nobody else has ever contributed as many safety links to my blog, so I think it is a valid judgement to make that he was a safety-conscious rider. If nothing else that gawds-awful bodysock on his ‘bent (last one I saw a picture of was the same ugly yellow-green color as my jersey in my gravatar picture) should have made him visible to anyone even glancing in his direction.

Barbara Chapnick
Guest
Barbara Chapnick

Investigators determined that inattentiveness was likely a contributing factor in this crash, Ray said, noting citations may be issued after the investigation is completed.

Barbara Kilts
Guest
Barbara Kilts

Kirke was a friend and role model, patient and fiercely dedicated to leaving a small footprint. He will be missed in our little group of unconventional bike riders. My heart goes out to his family.

Recumbent Guy
Guest
Recumbent Guy

I’ve heard good things about this fellow from folks that knew him.
Hopefully taking advantage of this thread to say something about
right hooks will not dishonor his memory or provoke other people to do so:

Having almost killed (when behind the wheel) and been killed (when on a bicycle) I’ve thought deeply about this as others have. It seems to me that it is a very tragedy prone and illogical design to arrange that there is a “through lane” that a driver must yield to, to the right of a driver making a right turn. I can think of no other situation where a driver is expected to do this, and drivers perform as you would expect: imperfectly. As a driver, I am entirely supportive and respectful when a bicycle takes the lane in front of me at intersections like this.

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

It’s hard not to see a pattern when we are losing so many of our best advocates: http://bikeportland.org/2014/08/27/fatal-collision-highlights-gap-historic-columbia-river-highway-state-trail-110428
I suppose they often put in as many or more miles as the non involved cyclist. I remember when an amazing, strong advocate had to choose between being doored and going under a bus in Cambridge, MA. My first but not last exposure to losing a role middle this way.

Skid
Guest
Skid

Bright yellow everything and a giant windshield and people are saying that he should have had a FLAG on his recumbent? It’s not like it was a tadpole trike with your rear end 2″ off the ground, the seat height looks about the same as on a motorscooter.
I am so tired of “I didn’t see him” being an exoneration of any wrong-doing when hitting and killing a cyclist. It is an admission of negligence. You should have your license suspended when using this as a defense. And you should be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter when you hit and kill a cyclist.
He was traveling in the bike lane and was right-hooked by a semi. The truck driver should have yielded. I have a very hard time believe that he tried to pass the truck on the right, he was likely overtaken by the truck on the way to the intersection and then the driver turned in front of him. I guess those guards they installed on the sides of trailers don’t do anything either, except maybe increase the chance of being caught and dragged to your death.
There are a lot of older recumbent riders on the West Side, and they generally ride in the safest and most courteous manner possible. They aren’t wingnuts (like me) taking chances. And I think that’s why this gets to me, it would be one thing if I ended up under a truck, we’d all know why, but this guy?

Skid
Guest
Skid

If the rear wheel is 27″ then I would estimate Kirke was about 54″ tall while seated on his recumbent. They are plenty of cars, people on bikes, and pedestrians that are less than 4 feet 6 inches tall, are they “difficult to see” as well?

Bill V.
Guest
Bill V.

It’s fascinating to see how the cycling community has responded to this event. I would have to say, generally speaking, a lot of you are wildly confused about road safety.

The accident should be a wake-up call for cyclists, especially considering who the rider was.

Rather than arguing about how cyclists are constantly wronged by the rest of society, maybe it would be a good idea to heed the people who are saying, “it’s not safe to ride there.”

Atbman
Guest
Atbman

Bill V.
It’s fascinating to see how the cycling community has responded to this event. I would have to say, generally speaking, a lot of you are wildly confused about road safety.
The accident should be a wake-up call for cyclists, especially considering who the rider was.
Rather than arguing about how cyclists are constantly wronged by the rest of society, maybe it would be a good idea to heed the people who are saying, “it’s not safe to ride there.”

Recommended 0

By and large, cyclists aren’t that confused about road safety. They see failings pretty often.

As for it being “a good idea to heed the people who’re sying it’s not safe to ride here”, you seem to be making the assumption that, (a), they’re right and (b) that there’s nothing you can do about the kind of driving standards which lead people to ignore the existence of someone riding a brightly coloured object the size of the victim’s recumbent while turning right.

What was unsafe was not the riding, but the driving, in other words, “Drivers aren’t safe round here”

Martin Pion
Guest

I agree entirely with the views and sentiments expressed by “Bicyclists Belong in the Traffic Lane.”

They echo those of the overwhelming majority of another Facebook group “Cyclists are Drivers!” to which I subscribe at tinyurl.com/qcdyngb. It now has 5,737 members and was started by Dan Gutierrez.

Dan and another highly competent and skilled on-road cyclist, Brian DeSousa, formed Dual Chase Productions some years ago which has posted some creative video on-line. Among their most viewed, which I thoroughly recommend, is “Rights & Duties of Cyclists,” on their website at tinyurl.com/5ovlj4 as well as on YouTube.

Jason Bietz
Guest
Jason Bietz

Bill V.
It’s fascinating to see how the cycling community has responded to this event. I would have to say, generally speaking, a lot of you are wildly confused about road safety.
The accident should be a wake-up call for cyclists, especially considering who the rider was.
Rather than arguing about how cyclists are constantly wronged by the rest of society, maybe it would be a good idea to heed the people who are saying, “it’s not safe to ride there.”
Recommended 2

I used to live atop Sylvan Hill and rode though that area every so often trying to get out past West Union and quieter roads. I recall the feeling of the intersection being especially hectic and very dangerous. I would advise anyone cycling near there be hyper-vigilant if you must pass through.

The sad thing is, I assume Kirke’s death was avoidable had both he and/or the truck driver been more aware. It’s NEVER safe to assume ANYONE who could turn right across a cyclists path of travel will see you. We all have to ride accordingly, adjusting our attitudes and riding patterns to minimize risk- irregardless of laws, lines painted on the ground, or traffic signals.

Bicyclists Belong In The Traffic Lane
Guest

spare_wheel
It’s called living in a city with peak hour congestion, signal calming, and arterials signed at 25 mph. Come for a visit and I would be glad to show you how “vehicular cycling” often makes absolutely no sense in Portland.
And if you are interested in learning how to cycle more “effectively” in an urban setting I would strongly recommend Hurst’s The Art of Cycling.
http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780762790050-0
IMO, it should be mandatory reading for all vehicularists who try to “take the lane” in a city.

Well, Hurst’s stuff on taking responsibility and the pointlessness of assigning blame is spot on, but he simply does not get full lane use and its role in mitigating risk and not having to rely on paying attention so much. Not that paying attention isn’t very important – of course it is – but bicyclists are human too, and are just as prone to lapses. That’s why it’s important to develop practices and habits that give you an extra cushion of safety. He touches on that here and there, but it’s not a dominant theme like it is in Cycling Savvy.

In the first edition Hurst’s example of doing everything right and still getting hit due to lack of attention involved making the error of being distracted by an attractive woman on the left, and thus not noticing a Mercedes pull out backwards from an alley in front of him. But he openly admitted riding far right in a door zone bike lane, rather than using the full lane in the left tire track where he would have had more space and time to notice, be noticed and for all parties to maneuver in a way to avoid the crash.

So, I’ve read the book you recommend. Now you take the class I recommend. It can save your life. Deal?