Common Ground with… Susan De Vos

Common Ground with… Susan De Vos

Amid recent pushes to add Bus Rapid Transit and a Metro Transit redesign in Madison, one longtime resident and former researcher knows where those changes fit into the history of transportation in Dane County: Susan De Vos.

De Vos is the president of Madison Area Bus Advocates, a local nonprofit founded in 2006 that advocates for an expanded and improved bus system. Born in San Francisco, she spent nearly 40 years as a senior scientist in the sociology department at University of Wisconsin–Madison, where her research focused on demography, the statistical study of populations.

What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?

“Our biggest challenge is the loss of the middle class to the suburbs. And that’s happening all over the state — Madison is not the only place. Maybe people haven’t been aware of just how much exodus there was until about two years ago when most of the police in Madison did not live in Madison. They were not part of the Madison community but rather they came from outside. Now that is very common, but I don’t think people are aware of just how much we’ve bled our middle class.”

“I think that had a lot of effect because people would drive into work. The city would be busing downtown until 5 o’clock and then everybody would jump in their cars and drive home. And then the city center was a desert. The city center used to be where all of the shops were, where people would really carry on their life.”

What do you wish people in our community understood better?

“Unfortunately, a lot of people take for granted that everybody drives and that if you ask for directions — how to get someplace — the automatic thing to think of is driving rather than walking or taking the bus. Driving is inherently divisive because young people and old people don’t drive, a lot of low-income people don’t drive, and a lot of people concerned about environmental greenhouse gas emissions don’t drive. There are all kinds of reasons people might have. If people were more thoughtful of others they would be more inclusive in the way they view things. For transportation there’s been this drumbeat in this country that cars are everywhere and everything, and there’s just much more to it than that.”

What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community?

“I think what the city really needs is good leadership. A good leader would be able to bring people together and show them that they have interests in common and that those interests are not just good democratic governance but all kinds of things. A community is made up of a lot of talented people in many, many ways and for people to appreciate each other and have a positive view of what living in a city the size of Madison is all about.”

What in our community gives you hope?

“The people. Madison has incredibly talented people if people get their ideas out. That includes a top-notch university. Naturally, I think people are very social and they’re good to each other. We have to encourage that kind of activity everywhere, whether it’s sports, music or art.”


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