After Jahn death, bike advocates say cyclists must be careful and infrastructure must help

In the wake of the bicycle crash Saturday in Campton Hills that killed world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn, area bicycle safety activists said more work can be done to design intersections and roads to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, even in rural and exurban areas.

According to Campton Hills Police Chief Steven Millar, witnesses said Jahn was riding his bicycle 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. After Jahn was struck by the first car, which was heading south on Burlington Road, Jahn was knocked into the path of a northbound car.

Millar said Monday there were no updates in the investigation and it seemed to be “pretty clear cut.”

Jahn lived in Chicago but spent weekends at his historic St. Charles farm and was fond of riding his bicycle down local roads.

Maggie Czerwinski, an advocacy manager at Active Transportation Alliance, said people are often surprised to learn that rural areas are where 58% of all fatal crashes occur even though only 19% of Americans live in those areas.

“In rural areas and small towns, walking and biking is common, but the infrastructure for all road users is often limited,” Czerwinski said. “Intersections are often built to design standards that favor the car and high speed.”

Czerwinski noted there is a correlation between higher speeds and the severity of injuries and death rates in crashes. She said her organization advocates for investment into designing streets and intersections for all users, not just drivers.

She said among ways to improve rural and exurban roads would be adding shared-use paths or bike lanes next to roads, or slowing cars near intersections by lowering speed limits.

“We often don't think about the rural areas, but a high percentage of people do walk and bike in those areas,” Czerwinski said.

Dave Simmons, the executive director of Ride Illinois, said intersections are where the most crashes between bicyclists and cars occur.

“Cyclists must be defensive, know their surroundings and be careful,” Simmons said. “Vehicles have a ton or more of steel, and usually cyclists don't win that battle.”

Carl Schoedel, director and county engineer for the Kane County Division of Transportation, was riding his bicycle on a fairly wide shoulder on Route 64 in St. Charles in March 2019 when a driver struck him from behind.

Schoedel wound up in the emergency room while doctors treated his traumatic head injury. More than two years later, Schoedel continues to have nerve damage in his neck and numbness in his right thumb, but he considers himself lucky to have escaped with only a few nagging injuries.

Schoedel said the person who struck him hadn't cleaned the car windshield and couldn't see well enough to differentiate between the road and the shoulder.

He said while there are ways roads can be designed better, there needs to be a shared responsibility for road safety between bicyclists and drivers.

“Only by taking that seriously do we avoid these kind of crashes,” Schoedel said.

Helmut Jahn was killed in a crash at the intersection of Burlington and Old LaFox roads in Campton Hills on Saturday. Karie Angell Luc for the Daily Herald
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