Editorial: Jahn's death draws attention to issues for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers
The death of a famous person can call attention to the circumstances of the passing in a way that doesn't always happen when the rest of us leave this earth. And, that search for more details and answers often results in tangible benefits for the greater good, such as a boost in fundraising for research into a rare disease or shining a light on safety issues that could prevent future mishaps.
In this context, the death of world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn in a bicycling accident near Campton Hills last week has the potential to emphasize the need for greater awareness about bicycle safety by drivers and bike-riders alike, and maybe renew discussions about what more can be done to design intersections and roads to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.
We hope that's the case, because, according to the National Safety Council, about 80 million bicyclists share the road with motor vehicles, and the number of deaths from bicycle incidents increased 6% in 2019 and 37% in the last 10 years. The NSC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say nearly 1,000 bicyclists died in traffic accidents involving motor vehicles in 2019.
And, that risk is particularly true in rural and exurban areas, such as the location where Jahn was killed -- transportation advocates say 58% of all fatal crashes occur in those areas, even though they are home to 19% of Americans.
"In rural areas and small towns, walking and biking is common, but the infrastructure for all road users is limited," Active Transportation Alliance Advocacy Manager Maggie Czerwinski told our Doug Graham. "Intersections are often built to design standards that favor the car and high speed."
The 84-year-old Jahn was killed May 1 while riding his bike on Old LaFox Road, a side street, and was struck by a car after he rolled through a stop sign while attempting to turn left onto Burlington Road, police have said. After he was struck by the first car, which was heading south on Burlington Road, Jahn was knocked into the path of a northbound car.
Jahn lived in Chicago but spent weekends at his historic St. Charles farm and was fond of riding his bicycle down local roads.
Active Transportation Alliance advocates for investment into designing streets and intersections for all users. Their ideas to improve rural and exurban roads include adding shared-use paths or bike lanes next to roads, and slowing cars near intersections by lowering speed limits. Both are good ideas.
But other groups, including the NHTSA, say a large percentage of crashes can be avoided if motorists and cyclists follow the rules of the road and watch out for each other.
Yes, a shared responsibility by all road users -- cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians -- to take some precautions to make safety a priority.