The Central Ohio Community on LinkUS’ Impact

Central Ohio is home to a vibrant community of thinkers, dreamers and doers. The city’s residents are experiencing the growth of Columbus firsthand and stand to gain so much from the accessibility, connectivity and opportunities that LinkUS is creating. Explore their stories with us and see how their lives will be touched by a more connected community.

“My experience with public transit started at a young age; it was our primary means of transportation,” said Mayor of Whitehall Michael Bivens.

He now credits COTA with his independence in his youth and some fond memories, like getting to the Ohio State Fair as a teenager and meeting people from all walks of life on the bus when he returned to the city after his service in the Marine Corps.

“When I got on the bus in the early eighties, it was 25 cents. So it was an easy decision for us young people to be on the bus … it was just fantastic,” he said.

These formative experiences throughout his life reinforced the importance of public transit. 

“Public transit connects all of our residents to jobs, to services and access to housing. It means everything to our citizens and to our community,” he said. “Where public transit is going in the future, it’s going to be a connector.”

Today, Michael looks forward to the future LinkUS will help build. He calls LinkUS “the reimagination of public transportation in Central Ohio” and he sees it as vital to the community.

“I’m a complete fan of it,” he said. “It’s going to provide economic development opportunities along every corridor, but it’s also going to improve infrastructure like sidewalks and walkability to infrastructure in our neighborhoods.”

He’s excited for what’s to come, but he also reflected on the past and what a mass public transportation system would have meant for his own mother.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak to my experience as a young man with a single mom and what this could have done for her,” he said. “LinkUS is giving people the opportunity to reimagine their choices — their job choices, their service choices. If that’s not exciting, then I don’t know what is.”

Letha Pugh has a complicated relationship with cars. While she likes personal vehicles, during her childhood in Omaha, Nebraska, it wasn’t uncommon for her family vehicle to get repossessed. 

“It’s a cool thing to not have a vehicle and choose to use public transportation,” she said. “But there’s also a large segment of people who find that getting and maintaining and keeping a vehicle is a hardship.”

For Letha, getting around her city while growing up often meant borrowing someone’s bike or taking the bus.

“I wish LinkUS was something I had access to when I was growing up,” she said. These days, she finds herself thinking about public transit as a way to increase access for everyone, which is just one of the reasons why she is excited about LinkUS.

Today, Letha is a small business owner in the Central Ohio community, including ownership of Bake Me Happy and involvement with Cafe Overlook, a workforce development project, along the West Broad Bus Rapid Transit Corridor.

“We were very cognizant of being on a bus line when we were looking for a building,” she said. Letha ensured they were centrally located and accessible via public transit for her employees because having transportation resources contributes to everyone’s success.

She sees the benefits of LinkUS — like decreasing traffic and dependency on driving, saving money on gas and increasing access to housing — for both herself and her employees. 

“This is an opportunity to connect the city in a way it is not currently connected,” she said. “It’s going to allow people who may not have the most current mobility to have more mobility and potentially change their life.”

Council President Shannon Hardin embodies a deep-rooted commitment to building a city where every resident thrives. His journey is not just about representing constituents but weaving a tapestry of equity and opportunity that stretches across every neighborhood.

Shannon’s vision for Columbus echoes his grandmother’s story — a tale of resilience in the face of urban transformation. He remembers her old brick house on Lexington Street, nestled in a thriving middle-class Black neighborhood. However, the construction of Interstate 71 tore through this community, displacing countless families, including his own.

Years later, as the President of Columbus City Council, Shannon stands as a beacon of hope for those seeking equitable change. He sees LinkUS, Central Ohio’s growth and mobility initiative, as more than just infrastructure — it’s a bridge to opportunity and inclusion. Just as the Long Street Bridge reconnects neighborhoods, LinkUS will reconnect communities intentionally and equitably, rectifying the injustices of the past.

Shannon’s leadership is guided by a simple yet profound principle: “If it’s not for all, then it’s not for us.” He champions policies that empower marginalized voices, foster an inclusive economy and provide pathways to prosperity for every citizen.

LinkUS represents a paradigm shift — a departure from the car-centric sprawl of the past towards a sustainable and interconnected future. Through this initiative, Shannon envisions a city where frequent and reliable transit options serve as conduits for growth, housing and jobs along key arteries.

For Shannon, shaping Columbus isn’t just about the present — it’s about creating a legacy for future generations. His son Noah, and countless others, will inherit a city built on principles of equity and justice, which is a testament to the collective effort of those who dared to dream of a better tomorrow.

In this exciting chapter of Columbus’ history, Shannon invites every resident to join him in shaping the city’s future. Because in Columbus, the city belongs to all of us.

What gets Columbus City Council Member Lourdes Barroso de Padilla excited about LinkUS? She sees the initiative as a step toward a stronger, more connected community and as an opportunity to make everyone’s lives easier.

“I want to plant seeds.” For Malik Willoughby, recreation administrative manager at Columbus Recreation and Parks, this growth mindset is foundational to his worldview. Since moving to Columbus on his 8th birthday in 1979, Malik has watched the landscape of our region grow and change. 

As the youngest of seven children, he vividly remembers all-hands-on-deck bus trips to the grocery store to help carry the bags home. What started as a functional necessity soon grew into a vital resource for Willoughby’s independence, connecting him to needed services and the local arts scene.

Willoughby intentionally instilled that same sense of independence in his own children, teaching them how to plan trips, transfer lines and navigate our growing city without a car. Freedom of movement and connection was an instrumental part of Willoughby’s personal growth, which is part of why he is such a strong advocate for LinkUS. 

“There are those millions of folks that we’re expecting to come into our city,” says Willoughby. Over the years, he has watched not only Central Ohio grow, but the number of opportunities.

Willoughby says that LinkUS is about more than Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Within each corridor, LinkUS is collaborating with the City and Recreation and Parks to redesign the infrastructure in these communities. That means more green space and safer pedestrian paths and trails. 

“LinkUS is doing exactly what it needs to do in this city to support the millions of people who are going to arrive in Columbus,” says Willoughby. “LinkUS is planting a seed so that, years from now, we have a full blown tree.”

Growing up in Alabama, Mariam Massoud was a stranger to public transportation. Her options were limited, and it wasn’t until college when she went abroad to Scotland that she explored travel without having access to a personal vehicle.

This experience proved transformative as Mariam saw firsthand how public transportation could make it easy and convenient to connect with people and places without a car. When she returned to the U.S., she began to explore alternative transportation further, biking, walking and taking the bus to shop, go to events and more.

“It’s nice to just take the bus,” she says. “You don’t have to really think and you can do whatever you want with that time, knowing you are moving toward your destination.”

Today, Mariam is a resident of Columbus, transit-focused engineer and an avid user and advocate for public transportation.

“LinkUS is about very purposely planning Central Ohio’s growth,” she says. As someone who understands multimodal development, she hopes that LinkUS’ careful, intentional planning will create more transportation options for people in the region. With more ways to get around, everyone will be able to take advantage of the new people and new opportunities that are coming to our city in an equitable way.

“Instead of designing a street with the assumption that it’s just for people driving, we’re really thinking about all the other ways people get around,” says Mariam, who is keenly focused on creating roads that work for everyone. 

As she continues to watch LinkUS develop, Mariam is looking forward to a strengthened and expanded transportation network in areas like Broad Street Downtown, where dedicated bus and bike lanes will make it easier and more comfortable for her and others to explore their city in new ways.

As the voice of our explanatory video series, Javier breaks down the biggest ideas behind LinkUS in a way that is engaging and accessible. Javier is a Columbus native who has personally experienced the region’s growth, and he’s a passionate advocate for building a more equitable and prosperous community for this generation and all those who follow.

Javier is recognized both nationally and internationally as a leader in developing effective strategies for youth and community mobilization. His experience and expertise come from more than 20 years of work with the Youth to Youth International Program. Javier specializes in helping teens and their adult allies eh p In 2003 he was awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Developing Leaders in Reducing Substance Abuse Fellowship and is a graduate of the Ray Miller Institute for Change and Leadership.

His company, R.E.A.C.H. Communications, Inc. (Reaching Excellence in Attitude, Character, and Health) is a boutique marketing firm that uses the “by youth, for youth” approach to create cutting-edge health and wellness messages and communication strategies that effectively reach and engage our most disenfranchised communities and vulnerable populations.

Javier has written two books, a children’s book for fathers and daughters entitled “Look in My Mirror” and a book designed to help students, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs add process to their passion entitled “From This Moment On.”