It was really just a small train, not a plague of locusts. The streetcar I proposed before my first election as mayor and occasionally studied for four years was blamed for more debacles than Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman.
Budget shortfalls? It was the streetcar's fault. Real estate downturn? The streetcar did it. Gingivitis? It's the trolleys! Whatever Lindsay Lohan is going through? Blame the train.
By the time I finally put the idea out of its misery a couple of weeks ago, what started out as one idea to address transportation and economic development issues had turned into something that too many people believed was the only thing I worked on as mayor.
The irony is that the streetcar went down largely because I didn't do much at all to save it. I never launched a full-fledged campaign for the streetcar because I was always putting that issue aside to deal with more important priorities.
One of those priorities was public safety, but many people were led to believe that somehow the streetcar was obscuring the city's focus on crime. That had no basis in fact.
We've added 24 additional police officers since I took office four years ago, created a Downtown Safety Initiative and much more, but the perception couldn't be overcome.
Moreover, the streetcar was weighing down the proposal to create a regional transportation authority. An RTA could give us a way to expand the Madison Metro bus system both within the city and out into the county. The sales tax that the RTA could levy could also help fund the proposed commuter rail system, road improvements, bike facilities and expanded paratransit service for older people and those with disabilities all over the county.
Regions like Denver have used RTAs to great effect to keep people moving through the region and to help their economies grow. I needed to give up on streetcars to give the RTA a chance.
We need the RTA because Dane County is growing. Just since 2000, the city of Madison alone has added 18,000 more registered cars and trucks to our streets. Unless we get serious about a balanced transportation strategy and acquire the means to pay for it, our mobility, our quality of life and our economy are going to choke on congestion.
As for the streetcar, its fate is in the hands of the future. It could turn out like Monona Terrace: shunned, ridiculed and eventually built. Or it could turn out like the canal proposed in the mid 19th century that would have cut through the isthmus: shunned, ridiculed and forgotten.
Either way, the things we hoped the streetcar would do - provide an alternative form of mass transit, contribute to the revitalization of the downtown, increase investment in challenged neighborhoods, add to property values to benefit taxpayers - still need to be done.
I need to accept the streetcar's fate, but I'll continue to work on those goals.