Josh Brodesky: Oddly, transportation is a laughing matter, too

Unlike ordinary footwear, these special shoes let you take the sidewalk wherever your feet may wander. Neat, huh?


What if we turned our medians into desert trails for mountain bikers to navigate our city streets?

What if the chain stores on our street corners took ownership of the bus system? Instead of Sun Tran, we could have a Target bus line to connect all of its big boxes, or a Circle K shuttle with a soda fountain on the roof. Greenies could take a Whole Foods Market shuttle powered by organic ethanol while being serenaded by the sweet songs of local musicians.

What if each time we ran out of sidewalk in our neighborhoods, we could put on shoes attached to blocks of sidewalk? Just think, the concrete would never end.

To check out this alternative view of transportation, questioning how and why we move through our city, I walked down to the Worker Transit Authority exhibit earlier this week. The exhibit, 210 E. Broadway, is the product of architect Bill Mackey of Worker Inc. Tucson Pima Arts Council funded the exhibit with a $9,600 grant through the Kresge Foundation.

"He really, clearly in his proposal had no outlying goals of changing policy," said Leia Maahs, the grants manager at Tucson Pima Arts Council. "His goals were really to animate discussion."

Walk, run, ride or drive. Whatever your preferred mode of transport, the exhibit is a fun and snappy critique of the way we get around town. It's also free, and the last chance to see it is this weekend (see the accompanying info box for details).

"It's a mock transit authority that has mock planning projects," Mackey said as he took me through the exhibit.

To set a light tone, guests can sign up for various planning committees that reflect the maddeningly mazelike public planning process. A favorite? The stop-and-smell-the-roses committee, which meets from 4 to 4:05 p.m. on Christmas Day. But those with a bureaucratic bent might be more drawn to the subcommittee committee.

This gets the giggles going, but the exhibit aims to jostle our assumptions and transit contradictions. Next stop? Results from a survey you can still take on the Worker Transit Authority website.

Respondents love trees, but when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B, they almost never take the scenic route.

"When people go from their house to where they are going, the only thing they are thinking about is 'How fast can I get there? How efficient can I be?' " Mackey said.

Of those surveyed, 91 percent favored sustainable forms of living over driving cars, but nearly the same number of people, 89 percent, don't own a bus pass.

"And if it took the same amount of time, people would choose the car over the bus," he said.

Food for thought as construction churns for the streetcar project, which might be the supposed key to downtown revival - even though in function it is nothing more than a short bus route on some very expensive tracks.

The exhibit also has some smart plays on reality. Take the portion of the installation dedicated to bicycle-centric planning. Road signs that normally fade into the background leap to the eye.

"STOP unless you are a cyclist and it is raining," a mock stop sign reads.

A "Share the Road" sign has been modified to reflect cyclist reality: "Share the shoulder," the mock sign says.

Other parts of the exhibit reflect cyclist fantasies like the day drivers will have to press buttons for crosswalks, or an 11-foot bumper sticker that says: "Share the streets. Give a car eleven feet."

Mackey, 43, hasn't owned a car since 2004, but he also doesn't enjoy riding his bike. This exhibit, fittingly then, isn't about favoring one mode of getting around over another. It's not bikes versus cars. Or buses versus the streetcar. We have enough of that. It's more a playful expression of our experiences.

That's why one piece in the exhibit overlays the geographic sprawl of Tucson with the footprint of Hong Kong.

Along the way, Mackey raises some interesting questions. Is driving really an enjoyable experience? Is riding the bus an awful one? If the goal is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, then does the beauty of the city matter? Is the experience of commuting meaningful? Do bikes and cars really share the road?

We deal with these questions every day. In news stories. During our commute. Debates over projects. But unlike the real world where we drown in process, Mackey makes these questions insightful and fun.


• What: Worker Transit Authority

• Where: 210 E. Broadway

• When: Friday and Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m.

• How much? Free!

• Take the survey and get more info:

Columnist Josh Brodesky bikes and drives to work, walks his dog and never runs away from readers. Track him down at 573-4242 or