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Aiming for an Urban Cycling Mecca in Asheville, NC

By Jack Igelman

Photography by Jeff Zimmerman

On a warm night in the summer of 2008, nineteen year-old Jeremy Johnson was cycling home after an evening shift in the produce department at the Walmart Supercenter in Asheville, North Carolina. Johnson, a father of three and cyclist out of necessity, cut through a hilly residential neighborhood before darting through a traffic light at the crossing of a commercial boulevard. While there was little traffic at the late hour, according to a witness, Johnson pedaled through a red and was fatally struck by a car.

When local cyclist Mike Sule heard of the death several days later, he was rattled. Though a stranger to Sule, Johnson’s death was at an intersection that he, a bike commuter, passed often on his way to work. He is also the co-founder of Asheville on Bikes (AoB)—an urban cycling advocacy organization. While AoB’s efforts were initially aimed at promoting a culture of cycling, Johnson’s death was a slap in the face and a realization that urban cycling isn’t just the property of a minoritiy of bike enthusiasts. “Usually when a cyclist is injured you hear about it right away,” says Sule who recalls very little press about the accident. “The fact that this kid could be killed and virtually ignored really got me thinking about my responsibility.”