by Dave Noble, City News Editor
ELMHURST – Brushing off questions regarding the failure of previous safety upgrades at the York Street crossing of the Illinois Prairie Path, Elmhurst Public Works Committee chairman Jim Kennedy told reporters gathered around the Bicentennial Fountain at Wild Meadows Trace that the city’s recent hiring of clowns to startle joggers and bicyclists approaching York and other Elmhurst street crossings along the path has been a huge success thus far, as the city continues its effort to prevent accidents between drivers and path users.
Adorned in customary clown clothing often accented with fake blood or other unidentifiable stains and covered in various complicated makeup designs featuring attention-grabbing details like bleeding tears, a caged mouth, or pointed teeth, “Prairie Path Safety Patrol Clowns” are authorized to jump out from behind trees and bushes and do whatever it “reasonably” takes to alert path users that they are approaching a street crossing where drivers are historically unsure of their yield responsibility to pedestrians, according to Kennedy.
“We had hundreds of clowns apply for these jobs,” boasted Kennedy, who hired 18 clowns for the part-time positions and noted that the “Help Wanted” signs he placed on the windows of area Halloween costume stores and inside of local park porta potties drew the best applicants. “We’re very confident that every day they’re out there, our clowns are preventing accidents at York Street, Spring Road and the other Elmhurst path crossings.”
Prairie Path users agree that the clowns are already making a difference.
“I had a clown jump down from a tree branch and scare the hell out of me,” said local avid bicyclist Dan Cooper, who estimated that he was traveling “at least” 25 m.p.h. on his $3,500 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 mountain bike Monday as he approached the York crossing, where 47 accidents have occurred over the last ten years, including six in 2016. “Yeah, he was creepy. But that clown saved my bike. And my life.”
While the majority of path users and local drivers have benefited from the hiring of clowns to patrol the area, local restaurants and convenience store employees have complained that the city’s use of clowns has had a negative impact on their business.
“Two scary-looking clowns walked in on Friday around 5:00 p.m. and ordered Carbonara Tradizional to go,” said Roberto’s assistant manager Linda Yount, who stated that nearly every customer left the restaurant within minutes as the clowns stood in the middle of the dining room and smoked cigarettes while waiting for their food. “I never thought that being located near the Prairie Path could have a negative effect on business.”
Kennedy admitted that tweaking the roles and responsibilities of the clowns is all part of ongoing training, which essential to the success of the program.
“This is all new,” said Kennedy, who has already confiscated a chainsaw from one clown and asked another to stop spray painting messages like “I’m Watching You” on the path. “Once we get them to stay on the Prairie Path and do their jobs, then we can focus on the smaller details of their responsibilities.”
A few of the clowns are scheduled to make an appearance during Saturday’s “Fall Festival” at Wild Meadows Trace and introduce themselves to local parents and children.