By Ken Johnson — Utah’s cycling community mourns the loss of one of its most energetic and effective bicycle advocates, John Weis, PhD, professor of pathology at the University of Utah. John was a founding member of Utah’s statewide bicycle advocacy group, the Utah Bicycle Coalition (UBC) now Bike Utah, and was instrumental in working with state legislators to pass the “Three foot law”. He passed away in December of 2015 after a courageous fight with brain cancer.
In the summer of 2004, three cyclists were killed in Utah over the span of 37 days. One of those killed was a graduate student in the molecular biology program at the University of Utah named Josie Johnson. At that time Josie’s death, John served as director of her graduate program. As an avid outdoorsman, cyclist, and mentor to one of those recently killed, John along with others became deeply concerned by the senseless loss of life and the lack of action by law enforcement.
John had a unique talent to see beyond the present crisis and visualize a path to address unmet needs. He was an effective leader in organizing people within the cycling community to work together to improve cycling in Utah.
In 2005, he teamed up with other cyclists and civic leaders to form the UBC whose mission is to work for laws and legislation that encourage and promote safe cycling in Utah. The legacy of the UBC lives on today as “Bike Utah” (see bikeutah.org). It is in its 10th year as a non-profit 501c organization working with state legislators and transportation agencies such as the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Transit Authority. As of today, it has worked closely with numerous legislators to pass several laws that improve safety for Utah cyclists.
John was instrumental in developing the legislation that would become the “three foot law”. He worked closely with representative Carol Moss of the Utah House of Representatives to write the bill text and promote it. He organized a rally at the state capital promoting the bill, attended legislative committee meetings, and campaigned to educate legislators regarding bicycle safety conditions throughout Utah. At the end of the 2005 legislative session, this bill was signed into a law that prohibits a driver from operating a motor vehicle within three feet of a vulnerable user of a highway.
This law was accompanied with a $20,000 grant from the Utah state legislature to be distributed by the Utah Highway Patrol. Highway patrol leadership reached out to the UBC seeking guidance on how to spend these funds. The UBC asked the highway patrol to work with the Utah Department of Transportation to purchase and put up “Share the Road” signs throughout the state.
John was also one of the founding organizers of a memorial ride to honor those cyclists who had been killed while cycling in Utah over the prior year. This ride continued annually for 5 years. Under his leadership and guidance, the ride provided an opportunity for community outreach to local civic and transportation leaders as well as families who had lost loved ones to auto versus bicycle accidents. The ride featured speakers from government, law enforcement, and prominent cyclists just before the ride started and an opportunity for family members of fallen cyclists to memorialize their loved ones at the half way point of the ride.
Last October, John was recognized at the 2015 Bike Utah Awards with an advocacy award. At that event, he spoke of the importance of being involved and encouraged people to use their passion to make their voices heard.
The next time you ride past a “Share the Road” sign, remember John for his advocacy work and be inspired to get involved and make a difference.