Harvest Century September 22nd

Kirke Johnson’s BikePortland comments are chilling and inspiring

Posted by on November 24th, 2014 at 1:35 pm

(Photo: Johnson Family)

It turns out that Kirke Johnson, the man killed last Thursday when a truck driver turned his vehicle into Johnson’s path while he rode on NW Cornell Road, was a regular commenter here on BikePortland.

Given how involved Kirke was in the regional bike advocacy scene, I thought he might have sent us an email or two over the years. When I checked my inbox archives, sure enough an email address belonging to “kirkej” popped up; but it was only a CC’d message, not one directly to me. Then, out of curiosity, I copy/pasted his email address into our comment database. A few seconds later I was reading the 100 or so comments left by “bikesalot” — which was Kirke’s screen name here on BikePortland.

Starting in January of 2009 Kirke commented about once a month at first. By 2012 he was commenting a few times a month. Kirke left his last comment just over a month ago. His contributions to our discussions match with the helpful and engaged advocate that I’ve been learning about from his friends and acquaintances in the past few days: He weighed in on advocacy issues, shared recaps of meetings he’d attended, offered insights on road conditions, and so on.

By way of remembering Kirke and his contributions to our community, here are a few of his comments that really stood out to me:

In his first-ever comment, Kirke writes about using his own shovel to clear leaves from sections of NW Cornell road (the same road he was hit on)…

“I started tonight cleaning off some of the narrow areas on the south side of Cornell Road where it is climbing from the west side of the mountain. Over recent years I have swept much of about two miles of Cornell, some places several times…

I submit that if each serious rider got out with a flat blade shovel and a wide push broom, we could together make quite a difference.

Just dress in brightly visible clothing, work facing traffic, and don’t get hit!”

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On July 13th, 2009, he shared what it was like doing the Seattle-to-Portland ride “fossil fuel free”…

“Did the round-trip STP for the second time, riding three days up and two back. It feels great to have a fossil fuel-free STP. We used to do a gasoline-free STP by taking Amtrak to Seattle, but the round trip by bike is much better!

On the return trip we made Longview the first day. It is a long ride, but we missed the thunderstorms that hit the Centralia area. Got to the finish line dry and happy, then got totally soaked riding over the mountain to get home.

This was STP number 8 for me. Don’t know how much longer I will keep it up, but this one was thankfully free of any bicycle or auto accidents where I was riding. I worry about the congestion during the first 50 miles or so.”

On May 7th, 2012, Kirke commented on a link we shared in the Monday Roundup…

“The item on the fatality on Hwy 1 in California makes me fear it is just a matter of time until many of us lose our nerve for cycling in traffic. I rode that section of highway just a year ago by myself during a small group tour from San Francisco to the Mexican border. Are the odds getting worse, or is all this just getting reported more?”

On February 20th of this year he shared insights about the Salmonberry Corridor trail and urged other readers to join him at meetings to support the project:

“+1 regarding the City of Garibaldi – Salmonberry Corridor: Garibaldi to Barview proposal! We were at the Salmonberry public meeting last night in Banks, and this specific location was mentioned several times as a real trouble spot. Personal experience matches with that: the hiker-biker camp in Barview Jerry County Park is our favorite one anywhere, but the highway getting to Garibaldi is an immense obstacle to riding into town (not very far away) to get dinner or provisions. It was also awful riding it in the morning fog to continue down the coast.

Another note from the meeting: we were appalled by the lack of attendees supporting the trail for cycling. The meeting was really dominated by local property owners who opposed the trail. They don’t want anything to change there and spoil their solitude. Economic issues were of no apparent concern to that group. Apparently this was a dramatic contrast from the corresponding meeting on the coast, where everyone seems to “get it” about the potential benefits from the trail.”

And the last one I’ll share is Kirke’s last comment that he left on October 18th of this year…

“Turning 70 early next month, retiring from work at the end of this month. I am on track for another 10,000 mile year, as I have done for most recent years. It will be interesting to see what changes in retirement. (Hint: my wife is planning a ride for us from San Diego to Florida, as soon as we get this potential El Nino weather thing resolved.) Lots of things to see around the country by bike where the logistics were difficult on limited annual vacation.”

Our community has lost a wonderful person and a dedicated advocate for better bicycling. He died doing the thing he loved on the same roads he worked to make safer for the rest of us. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.

Anyone who would like to pay their final respects to Kirk, is welcome to attend the memorial service just announced by his family:

    Kirke Johnson Memorial Service
    December 6th, 1:00 pm
    World Forestry Center, Cheatham Hall (4033 SW Canyon Rd, Portland)

Kirke’s daughter Heather Johnson also wants everyone to “Please feel free to dress casual, Kirke didn’t believe in dressing fancy.” In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that people make a donation to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in the name of bicycle safety.

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

21 Comments
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    Dan Morgan November 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Great Tribute, Jonathan.

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    Shanana November 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    I ride NW Cornell often and was recently considering getting a push broom to take care of some gravel and leaves that are making the bike lane more dangerous. Kirke probably made my own ride safer by clearing the bike lane. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Thanks for sharing some of his comments. This is just what I needed to stop procrastinating and get my ass out there sweeping.

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    David Bosch November 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    A great loss for the entire community.

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    KristenT November 24, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Do NOT read the comments on any of the news sites. I made that mistake on KOIN today, on their article about Kirke’s family and how they hope his death will lead to more awareness.

    I hope his family doesn’t read the comments, either. It’s discouraging that someone dies, and the vituperation and hate comes out just because they were riding a bike.

    As for paying it forward: I’ve swept the bike lane on Hall between Bonita and Sattler a couple of times this past summer, after years of dealing with the massive quantities of glass, debris from car crashes, landscaping pieces left in the bike lane by ODOT’s own landscapers, etc. I felt pretty darn good about it, but next time I won’t do it on a 100+ degree day!

    I encourage everyone to at least report debris in the bike lane to the entities responsible– for instance, ODOT, City of Tigard, City of Tualatin, City of Beaverton, etc. Or, take a few minutes to sweep the debris out of the way as best you can, if you don’t happen to have a broom with you.

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      wsbob November 25, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      The ‘beauty’ of dial-up: At least for me, since the O-live made one of their great site revisions, comments stopped loading up. I used to read comments to some of the stories and comment there from time to time.Occasionally, there were thoughtful efforts at good discussion. And of course, there were a number people posting the kind of comments that left me wondering what, if anything, they had going on upstairs. It seems to have fewer in depth stories, consequently, I rarely visit KOIN online.

      About Kirke Johnson winding up a fatality to such a collision, I struggle to figure out how someone so experienced and skilled in riding in traffic could have such a thing happen to him.

      Even if big, heavy trucks could somehow manage to prohibited from using road infrastructure such as at the Barnes and Cornell intersection, I’m skeptical that right hook danger inherent to that intersection configuration would go away. I think the problem goes much deeper. It’s time for a change in the same old way of upgrading intersections to accommodate increases in travel needs arising from more people living closer together.

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    bArbaroo November 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to create this tribute to Kirke. I didn’t know him, but I certainly know what it is like to have a passion for cycling and exploring the world by bike. My heart aches knowing his family is missing him. My deepest condolences to all his friends and family.

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    dan November 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    I don’t want to jinx myself, but if that ever happens to me, here’s a quote to pull out for posterity: “Having toured in places like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China, the US is worse for cycling than any of those so-called developing nations. If I got hit by a car there, I could count on genuine remorse and sympathy. If it happens here, I can count on the commentariat to say things like ‘he had no business riding a bike on the road anyway.'”

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    Dan Powell November 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    RIP Kirke.

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    HJ November 24, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Thank you to those taking up the mantle of keeping the lanes clear. Kirke would often ride with a pair of pruning shears to trim away blackberry vines creeping into the road during summer in addition to sweeping at times. He would be truly touched that people are continuing his efforts.

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    Mike Quiglery November 25, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Yikes! He planned to ride from San Diego to Florida, especially Texas and Florida? ***Portion of comment deleted due to insensitive word choice***

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    Jim November 25, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Kirke – I left some tears on Cornell for you yesterday when I rode by your ghost bike. May they clear the path for those of us that continue to ride your route. RIP.

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    Doug Reid November 25, 2014 at 7:25 am

    I used to encounter Kirke up around Sylvan – wow was he fit. He used to blow by me on the bike path as though I was parked. I visited with him a few times while waiting for lights at Sylvan. I never saw him break any traffic rules up there while plenty of others would ride against the lights. I occasionally bike through the Barnes/Cornell Road intersection where he was killed. It is a wide open intersection with lots of visibility and the truck driver should have had no problem seeing him – just careless I guess.

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    rachel b November 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

    RIP. What a sad loss.

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    Rob November 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Great tribute to a man who appears to have had a great attitude. I intend to honor his memory by being a little more diligent in doing my part to keep the bike lanes clear…

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    Joe November 25, 2014 at 10:59 am

    RIP dude!

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    Barbara Kilts November 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Kirke was the real deal. A loving husband, father, grandfather and citizen of Planet Earth. He rode for all the right reasons; personal health and challenge, environmental and community health, traveling far on social and solo rides. He was never boastful and always quick to lend a hand…

    Ride In Peace, Kirke.

    On their planned trip across the Southern US – the route is one of Adventure Cycling’s most popular cross country routes. Many folks I know have done that trip and have had wonderful experiences with the people and places they passed through along the entire route. Bike touring brings out the best in people. The open road will be a lonelier place without Kirke.

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    Lisa Sedlar November 25, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing Kirke’s comments with us Jonathan. I feel like I knew him after reading this. Condolences to his family and friends.

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    Chris November 26, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Great work, Jonathan. RIP, Kirke.

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    matt picio November 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I can’t recall if I’ve met Kirke, but I admire anyone with that level of dedication to cycling and the ability to ride a 10,000 mile year. I’ve never gotten near that level of mileage in a year, and the two years I rode more than 6,000 miles, it felt like all I did was bike. A number of times, there were very close calls, and a couple of collisions, but fortunately not serious. The more we ride (or drive, or walk), the more possibilities of having a life-changing collision. My heart goes out to Kirke’s family and the families of all the great cyclists we’ve lost on Oregon’s roads.

    Stay safe, everyone, and may fortune smile on you. RIP Kirke Johnson.

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    Bill Stites November 26, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Deepest condolences to his wife Kathi and the whole family. I got to know Kirke through my time with Oregon Human Powered Vehicles, and I never pretended to be able to keep up with him.

    This is a second punch to the gut – I honestly couldn’t remember if I posted this already … but no, it was a post honoring Marilyn Hayward much too recently.

    This aching sadness is exactly why we need to keep ourselves empowered to keep improving cycling conditions.

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      Carolyn December 7, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      I agree completely that this and am feeling very sad for Kathi. I haven’t ridden with Kirke for a few years. But one thing I can guarantee — he was vibrant and flashing and doing everything imaginable to be visible.
      He was very uber safety conscious ! ! and that just makes it even worse.

      We did a bike / camp trip together in 2004 or so to Lost Creek and it was very fun. He’d just gotten a GPS for his bike. Kathy joined us at the campsite.

      Yes, this is a second punch to the OHPV / Recumbent Bike / PDX cycling world. Hard to believe this small community was hit so hard twice in such a short time.

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