People to Watch: Jess Mathews

Jackie Mantey, Columbus Alive

On Sept. 21, Jessica Mathews will probably cry.

It's the inaugural day for Open Streets Columbus. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Rich Street will close to cars and become an urban playground.

"I believed in this initiative so much," Mathews said. "This initiative has become a child of mine."

She studied data from other cities doing similar projects, went to the National Open Streets Summit and experienced Los Angeles' CicLAvia, where the most congested section of L.A. closes down for more than 100,000 people to play.

Mathews also withstood a lot of official "No"s. But as organizations like Transit Columbus, People For Bikes, Jeni's, Capital Crossroads and New Belgium Brewing got on board, Open Streets became a reality.

"I can't wait to have the people of Columbus experience this initiative and hopefully get why I believe in it so much," Mathews said.

Mathews is as tenacious as the bike she rode in on, and her commitment to making Columbus' streets safer to bikers of all stripes is more than just a passion - it's a way of life.

Among many other two-wheeled initiatives, she's spearheaded the 2 Wheels & Heels monthly women's bike ride, a parklet on Fourth Street and the program that teaches young girls how to maintain and operate bicycles, Girls In Gear, which is in the process of becoming a school curriculum.

"If we had transportation choice and everybody used different modes and those different modes were more equal, I feel like there would be less of this hierarchy of one mode over the others," she said. "I don't think people fully realize how much the built-environment affects their day-to-day choice and how they live their lives.… Transportation is a social justice issue."

Mathews hopes to see drastic changes to our streets, for Downtown to become a destination, "not a freeway." Protected bike lanes, green paint, dedicated bicycle signals, more families riding bikes - anything that challenges the built-environment to be more equal to all passengers, whether their transportation is by choice or circumstance.

And a bathhouse, maybe?

"I would love to have a Turkish bathhouse spa situation," she said. "Yep, streetscape to bathhouse. That's how I roll."

Catch her if you can, Columbus.

Jess Mathews

Age: 35

Occupation: Public policy coordinator for Ohio Alliance of YMCA; outreach coordinator for Consider Biking

Hometown: Columbus

Neighborhood: German Village


Affiliations: Open Streets Columbus, Consider Biking, YMCA, Girls In Gear, 2 Wheels & Heels

Heroes: Katharine Hepburn, Ashley Judd