Moving Forward

Recent graduate gathers feedback to improve public transportation systems

by Leah Shutes, Published September 19, 2012

Growing up, Deborah Freer saw a lot of the public transit system. Her family didn't have a car, so she found other ways to get around. She probably didn't think much of it at the time, but the unfortunate situation turned into good luck for her a few years down the road.

With an unfinished bachelor's degree, Freer had already been thinking of going back to school, but a family trip to Washington D.C., helped make her decision. She was impressed with the area's railroad and bus system.

"That was the first time I'd ever seen a city up-close that had a light rail system and a nice bus network. I decided to find a degree that could help institute that in Michigan," says Freer. "It was what I wanted to do."

Freer discovered EMU's Urban and Regional Planning program, earned her degree in December and is now a Communication Specialist at the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA). Her job consists mostly of liaison work, gathering feedback from the public and finding out what citizens would like to see in terms of improvement to the transportation system.

"Most places (in Michigan) don't have good public transit," says Freer. "Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti do. Detroit once had a great system, back when there was more money."

During her time at EMU, she served as a legislative aide to the Washtenaw county commissioner and began attending career fairs at high schools. Freer has also worked with the American Planning Association to help inform parents and students about transportation and planning. And though Freer isn't active at high schools at the moment, she plans to continue this work.

"There are no urban planning classes in high schools, so kids don't know about this option as a major or career," she says.

Another important part of Freer's job is to combat urban sprawl, the geographic spreading out of cities from the original inner city. She says that urban sprawl spreads out roads, sewers and water, and those cities start to lose farmland.

"It's important for communities to work together," says Freer. "Problems with transportation, water and air quality can't be easily handled by themselves."

Geoff Larcom


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