CEDAR MILL, Ore.—
Bike safety advocate and avid bicyclist Kirke Johnson died in a bicycling collision on Thursday, November 20.
“Kirke was a gentle, peaceful, thoughtful and intellectually curious man who will be greatly missed,” Leslie Riester, his former supervisor at Portland Community College (PCC), told The Oregonian.
Kirke’s story is one of resilience, with his passion for biking at its center. After intensive surgery to remove a cancerous mouth tumor, Kirke remained hospital-bound for a week.
“Two weeks later he was back on his bike,” Kirke’s daughter, Heather Johnson, told The Oregonian. “The doctors were amazed.”
Described as gracious and soft-spoken, Kirke biked nearly 20 miles each to work at PCC, Sylvania. His bright yellow, reflective bike became a common sight along Northwest Cornell Road.
Kirke and his wife, Katharina, worked to promote bike safety in Washington County.
“He was working on a safe way for bicyclists to get through . . . to Portland. There is not a continuous safe way to do that,” Katharina told The Oregonian.
Besides joining a neighborhood advocacy group, the couple shared many bicycling adventures with Oregon Human Powered Vehicles. Four years ago, the Johnsons biked from Oregon to Montana and back — an experience Katharina remembers as “exciting.”
The specifics regarding Kirke’s death remain unclear. A FedEx truck collided with Kirke, who was riding in the bike lane.
The tragedy brought the question of Oregon bicycling safety to the forefront. Jonathan Maus, the publisher and editor of BikePortland.org, questions the safety of the biking location, and Washington County bike lanes in general.
“Their version of bike safety was putting in a white paint stripe and giving people five feet or so of operating space,” Maus told The Oregonian. “It does nothing for safety. It’s just symbolic.”
“Kirke was a man engaged in life and committed to living his to the fullest,” an anonymous mourner posted to PCC’s webpage. “He was a kind man. His passing is a great loss to our community.”