Kirke Johnson’s BikePortland comments are chilling and inspiring

Kirke Johnson’s BikePortland comments are chilling and inspiring


(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!”

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.

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