By now, most people in Madison have probably learned of the possibility that their fair city might someday become home to a brand new trolley system. The potential plan — a pet project of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz — has already been the focus of a $300,000 streetcar feasibility study, a fierce City Council debate and even a mayoral election. Despite all the hype, however, the tracks leading to an implementation of this idea have hardly been laid. Last week, Mayor Dave and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk got into a well-publicized scuffle concerning the matter of streetcars in Madison. Championing an enterprise entitled Transport 2020 — essentially a blueprint for the establishment of commuter rail in Madison — Falk sought to collaborate with Cieslewicz to form the city-county consensus necessary to appeal for federal funding of a lightrail project. The mayor, although supportive of commuter rail on the isthmus, made clear that he is reluctant to submit a funding proposition to Washington until the streetcar feasibility study has been completed — something that might take months. According to Falk, postponing the funding proposal to incorporate a hastily conceived trolley initiative might not only kill the idea of Madison trolleys for good, but could also hinder the chances of federal funding for light rail. Naturally, there has been something of a backlash against Mayor Dave for what is widely perceived as a stubborn resistance against rationality based on his own impractical and ideological dream of the Madison trolley. And in this instance, naysayers may be justified in their opposition to the mayor's arguably exorbitant proposal. In principle, however, this issue transcends the simple matter of streetcars. Today, Madison finds itself at the crossroads of its own identity. Long known as a gem among cities — a unique metropolis made great because of its self-exemption from the typical rules of common sense — Madison today must seriously consider its own future. Until now, commodities that elsewhere might be considered frivolous have defined the city of Madison. The huge swaths of land designated for public parks and paths in this city might well be private property by now, had Madison's governing attitude been one of common sense. It is doubtful that the state Capitol was built in the spirit of simple practicality. And even the decision of where to establish Madison — on an originally marshy and inconveniently located isthmus — was imprudent. Obviously, it would be unfortunate for the city of Madison to completely lose touch with reality, sacrificing all that is rational in pursuit of each and every whim that surfaces. At the same time, however, Madison would not be Madison were it to lose the occasional tendency toward curiosity and impracticality that has come to characterize it. This city cannot afford to surrender itself to the boring rationality that defines the decision-making processes of so many others. Rather, a balance must be struck between the artist and the accountant. Certainly, the issue of the Madison trolley must be carefully scrutinized and debated before any further measures are taken in its implementation. And, if indeed the idea appears to be as undesirable as its detractors would argue it is, it should not be implemented at all. But city residents must be careful in the future to consider ideas like the trolley from a different perspective. It is imperative that we cease deciding an idea's merit based solely on the logic of number crunching. Even if the trolley ultimately proves to be an unworthy undertaking, we must remember that Madison was not built on common sense — it was built on ideas. Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.