This is still more than many people understand about most transportation technologies.
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the classic Conan O’Brien penned episode of The Simpsons entitled ‘Marge vs. The Monorail.’
The episode tells how the naive residents of Springfield choose to spend an unexpected windfall of revenue on a monorail instead of repairing dilapidated Main Street. The salesman is a smooth-talking (and singing) gent in a bowler hat who is an obvious reference to ‘Professor’ Harold Hill from The Music Man. It’s a stunningly well-written episode and about as good as one can expect from television satire.
It’s also probably one of the most quoted episodes in the shows entire run.
It’s also a perpetual thorn in our side (see here, here and here). Those that disagree with the idea of using gondolas as public transit love to cite this particular episode as some kind of proof against the concept. We tend to just smile bemusedly and turn the other cheek.
Lost in all the jabs about monorail technology, there’s also a subtle commentary on the usage of public funds to build transit when the overwhelming majority of people use cars. It’s easy to miss that because of the monorail hook, but replace the ill-fated train with a streetcar, subway or BRT and the episode carries with it an entirely different message.
The monorail adds an absurd element to the proceedings, but at its core, ‘Marge vs. The Monorail’ isn’t questioning the validity of a specific technology, it’s questioning what role government should have in shaping our transportation preferences – and whether or not it’s effective.
Which – even 20 years later – is a question we’re still wrestling with in cities across the developed world.
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