Cyclists brave snow to remember Johnson, other stricken riders

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Posted: 3:31 PM- Two men talked with one another before the fifth annual Josie Johnson Memorial Ride on Saturday morning as a light snow fell.

"What's sad this year is that her class is graduating," said John Weis, University of Utah professor of pathology, who had Johnson as a student before her death in 2004.

"There's no 'sad' today," replied Josie's father, Richard Johnson, as he warmed up his muscles for the upcoming bike ride.

That spirit of community and camaraderie prevailed as about 100 riders gathered at Sugar House Park to remember Johnson - struck and killed by a car at age 25 in 2004 when she was riding in Big Cottonwood Canyon - and other Utah bicyclists who have perished on the road.

Despite the freezing drizzle and snow flurries, the cyclists, including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, pedaled 10 miles from Sugar House Park to Mill Hollow Park in Cottonwood Heights, escorted by Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies and Cottonwood Heights police officers.

"It wouldn't be the Josie Johnson ride without the rain or the snow," joked Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, referencing the typically frigid conditions during the annual event.

Brief ceremonies before and after the ride focused on remembrances of Johnson, the 54 Utah bicyclists killed by cars since 1996, and the following five struck down within the past 18 months: JoAnne Krajeski, Cooper Mardesich, Gerald Hilton, Terrence Bigelow and Robert Bennett.

Amid that pain was the hope that leaders would continue pressing legislation to enhance bike safety, especially as more and more riders share the road.

"Part of this ride is to educate bicyclists and motorists," said Jason Bultman, a bike enthusiast and one of the event organizers. He was hit by a car several years ago and had to endure six surgeries.

"The Three-Foot Law is gaining traction," said Josie's brother Ken Johnson, alluding to the measure enacted by the Legislature in 2005 requiring motorists to give cyclists a 3-foot buffer.

Speakers encouraged riders to actively support the idea of "complete streets" - which include pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly cities and systems - and a bicycle-safety vanity license plate likely to be considered by the Legislature next year.

One of Saturday's more poignant moments included a speech by 28-year-old Salt Lake City resident Andy Chapman, who last month was struck and nearly killed in American Fork by an uninsured driver in an unregistered vehicle. He still is recovering from the injuries, which include a broken cheekbone, severe neck trauma, a separated collarbone and four fractured vertebrae.

As snow started falling again, he told the riders that, despite everything, he was looking forward to riding his bike next year, "as soon as I can."

That optimism was echoed by Richard Johnson. "Since Josie has died, there's been a lot of good come out of this," he said. And then he, calling himself a "born-again biker," rode his bike into traffic with the other cyclists.