World-famous architect Helmut Jahn was killed in a cycling accident in an area known as Campton Hills, Illinois, outside the City of St. Charles. The intersection where he was struck twice by a pair of vehicles is quite familiar to me. I’ve approached Burlington Road on Old Lafox Road many times in fifteen years of cycling.
It isn’t apparent from accident reports why Jahn elected not to stop at the intersection but that is what witnesses reported. Perhaps he swung right not noticing oncoming traffic. The stretch of road immediately to the north (left) bends and cars aren’t immediately visible. He may have turned casually, swung out into traffic and was struck on his bike.
I would never think to criticize Helmut Jahn for poor decision-making. I’ve had so many incidents and close calls I’m probably lucky to be alive myself. Nearly nine-hundred people a year die in bike accidents. Some are experienced riders while others, not so much. Some accidents happen in urban environments while others take place in remote locations where either the cyclist or the driver make a fatal move and that’s it. A life is over.
The Chicago Tribune reported on the life and work of Helmut Jahn this morning. He was educated at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. HIs famous works include the revitalization of the O’Hare terminal from a dull passageway to a celebratory tour through light. His accomplishments were many, and even his failures bore the stamp of fame. The State of Illinois/James Thompson building was one such “failure” in the sense that it had loads of heating and cooling issues. The building “made his reputation internationally and ruined it in Chicago,” the article noted.
We all want to feel like we’ve made some sort of mark in this world. Helmut Jahn appeared on the cover of GQ magazine and his work is known for its clarity and simplicity. That’s a coarse summary for a life lived so fully, yet it ended so quickly and tragically that the ultimate lesson is conflicted by the nature of his demise. Perhaps he was dreaming of a new project when he drifted out in that lane of traffic. Creative minds tend to do that. I once ran smack into a downed tree because I had my head down thinking about a book cover design while riding.
If we have to go, perhaps that’s the best way to go about it. Immersed in a dream of our own making, we move into another realm without even trying. We call it a tragedy from our earthly perspective, but it is our ideas that live on. In that respect, Helmut Jahn transcended life even as he lived it. That’s a great legacy to leave, on two wheels or not.
I can’t leave this topic without making the one cycling joke that fits this tragedy. The story about his death did not say whether Helmut was wearing a helmet. That’s because it likely did not matter. Traffic on Burlington Road moves swiftly, I can tell you that. I’ve ridden that road all the way from Wasco out to Route 72. Cars fly and if they strike a cyclist, people would die. All this hits close to home with me, and to that note, I’ve been extra cautious these past couple years while riding my bike. That’s the takeway here. Look twice, and always brake at intersections. Always.