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BUS ROOTS
GRAD STUDENT USES TRANSPORTATION TO SPAN DIFFERENCES

Need a free ride?

How about a chance to discuss your experience of Buffalo life?

You're in luck. This weekend's "Public Transphere," the master's thesis project of Arzu Ozkal Telhan, a student in the University at Buffalo's Art Department, will provide both.

The white, 12-passenger van marked with the words "Public Transphere -- travel around -- talk about -- Buffalo," will run on a 30-minute loop starting at Main and North streets and proceeding east across the Medical Campus area, north through the Fruit Belt and back. Passengers can get on and off at any stop.

James Holland, an adjunct instructor of art at UB, will drive the van, which will operate from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

On the van, "I'm like a tour guide," said Ozkal Telhan, as she looked forward to the two-day project she has worked on for almost a year. "I'll talk a little about the history of Buffalo, and then I'm hoping my announcements will trigger some discussion among the passengers."

Ozkal Telhan's project statement says: "Riders are encouraged to discuss their everyday realities, share opinions and exchange concerns about their communities."

Along with Ozkal Telhan, a native of Turkey, other UB grad students working on the project are Paul Visco, a Kenmore native and adjunct professor at Canisius College, and Jesse F. Fabian, who was born in East Otto and is a lecturer in the department of media study. Minoo Amini, a professor in UB's School of Architecture and Planning, also worked on the project.

Ozkal Telhan views the van as an "itinerant free-speech platform," much like the free-speech corners in other cities. By moving among communities divided by race and economic status, the Transphere van "directly physically integrates people from different neighborhoods," said Fabian. "This is an interesting thing -- there are a lot of people who won't take public transportation because of the cultural barriers. This allows an integrative space for people from different cultures and physical areas, and maybe goes a little toward repairing the rift between the areas."

Visco is the designer of elmwoodstrip.com, a three-year-old "local journaling and social networking site." He has developed software that allows visitors to the project's Web site (www.public-transphere.info) to track the van. Fabian's data links will record the discussion on board and transmit it to the Web site, where it can be heard as streaming audio. Visitors to the Web site may also ask questions and make comments that will be communicated to riders.

The east-west route was chosen to link city neighborhoods that have few points of intersection. Fabian said, "Logistically, (the route) looked very simple, but culturally and politically, it was designed so there are obstacles," including the Kensington.

This weekend, look for Public Transphere, driving through those obstacles. For group reservations, call 400-6728.

e-mail: aneville@buffnews.com