Meet Shelley Carr, Bicycle Mayor of London, Canada

photo courtesy of Shelley Carr

Meet Shelley Carr, who doesn’t drive a car. She drove thousands of kilometers a year as part of her work at a Chrysler minivan factory in Canada. But then the bones in her foot were crushed in a car crash and she could no longer stand long hours. She left that job and went back both to school and to riding a bike.

Shelley went back to school at Fanshawe College to forge a new career in Purchasing and Logistics. She went back to riding a bike for two reasons. One, it was a childhood love of hers growing up free-range in the 1970s when “you just came home for popsicles and bandaids,” as she told me recently during our interview via Slack. Two, like many others I meet while Traveling at the Speed of Bike, riding a bike serves as a mobility aid for Shelley that is easier than walking.

Working both independently and as part of London Cycle Link in the low-density, sprawling Canadian city of London, Ontario, Shelley became instrumental in:

  • Encouraging local adoption of the national bicycle registry named Project 529 to reduce bike thefts (see media coverage here) ;
  • Organizing the annual local Cycle Femme event for Global Women’s Cycling Day;
  • Petitioning for bike lockers at all ten municipal parking lots (she succeeded in getting ten of them at one pilot location);
  • Even expanding her professor’s criteria for what constituted forms of logistics transportation to include cargo bikes (even though the class laughed at her when she first suggested it in snowy Canada — “Have you not seen what they are doing in Montréal?” she countered).

She also learned that there are rules for how cities are being built, and that some of them are not being followed, which dropped her farther down the rabbit hole of advocacy work.

Shelley had already moved from her land-locked suburban home to a 600-square-foot walk-up apartment closer to the city center with her partner (a committed bike rider as well who has lost over 100 pounds as a result), four bikes, and a kayak, which made this pro bono work more accessible.

Two years ago, she was nominated to become the first Bicycle Mayor of London, Ontario, with the Amsterdam-based social enterprise BYCS — a role she started in September 2019 for a term that ends after this summer.

I sat on the side of a main road in my Metro Atlanta suburb-city during evening rush hour (which is back with a vengeance) for our hour-long interview, where not one person on a bike passed, and listened as Shelley told me about how she uses her bikes for transportation.

“I am fearless,” she said. “I ride anywhere, and for long distances. I don’t know what it’s like to not be fearless, so I’ve really had to listen and learn from other people what their concerns are. I’ve especially enjoyed helping women create safe routes to their destinations by finding sub-division cut-throughs and catwalks that enable them to avoid dangerous-by-design roads.”

Shelley also told me that she’s spent a lot of time helping Muslim women learn to ride bikes while wearing culturally-appropriate clothing that can be challenging unless pinned safely. Plus, I learned from her LinkedIn profile that she organized and led a relief effort during this COVID pandemic to deliver bagged lunches via bikes to people experiencing homelessness. She also led London’s participation in the recent countrywide PedalPoll count of bike riders, which captured data about age, gender, and ethnicity of people on bikes.

“I’ve learned that there are many voices out there that are not being heard, and my job has been to dim the noise of the dominant voices so these other ones can be heard.”

One big way Shelley does this is when members of the media interview her as Bicycle Mayor (which is frequently). She often suggests that a reporter contact someone else she knows who may have a different lived experience.

And now that she’s gotten the role of Bicycle Mayor going and fulfilled her two-year objectives, Shelley has put the call out for someone else to apply for this independent position as Bicycle Mayor of London, Ontario with BYCS (where she and I are in the Americas, North America, and Gender in Cycling working groups as well as the general consortium of 120 bicycle mayors around the world). In fact, there may be a person in the wings already.

“There’s even a robust @BikeMayor Twitter handle you get to inherit,” Shelley told me.

What happens for Shelley next?

“Now that I’ve graduated with my new degree, I’m interviewing for jobs,” she told me. She shows up for interviews on bike, of course, and sometimes that’s seen as a negative and other times people are impressed.

“The reactions I get tell me a lot,” Shelley said.

Considering her degree is all about logistics, I’d suggest employers instead maybe think twice about candidates who show up in cars, and consider themselves lucky if they’ve met Shelley Carr on her bike. (Here’s her LinkedIn profile.)

Thanks, Shelley, for all you’ve done for London, for Canada, and for BYCS. I look forward to following your final efforts this summer as Bicycle Mayor of London, Ontario . . . and beyond. Plus, I can’t stop thinking about those butter tarts you mentioned that got you home from a recent accidental 90k ride! Maybe one day we’ll get to share some.

photo courtesy of Shelley Carr

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As Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, a League Cycling Instructor, a PeopleForBikes Ambassador, and the author of Traveling at the Speed of Bike (book and blog), I shine a light on people making it more welcoming to ride bikes and access public space close to home and around the world. Meet some below! If you’d like to put stories to work for your company, municipality, or organization, see here.

Meet Greg Masterson (Metro Atlanta Cycling Club)

Meet Marjon Manitius (Brookhaven Bike Alliance)

Meet Byron Rushing (Atlanta Regional Commission)

Meet Creighton Bryan (Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy)

Meet Betsy Eggers and Jack Honderd (Peachtree Creek Trail and Brookhaven Bike Aliance)

Jon’s Leap of Faith (Street Minister and Bike Saver Extraordinaire)

A Second(er) or Two about Why You’re Needed (City of Dunwoody)

Meet Matt (Painter of New Cycle Track by Mercedes Benz Stadium)

Meet Dr. Walter May (Reinhardt University)

Meet Alex Gee (World Bicycle Relief)

Meet Shawn Deangelo Walton (Everybody Eats ATL and WeCycle)

Meet Charlton Bivins (Clayton County Cycling Club)

Meet Emmett McNair (tour guide extraordinaire)

Meet Mike Fluekiger (Primary Mechanic at Global Spokes)

Thank You, Courtney (NYC’s Peoples’ Bike Mayor)

Meet Carden Wycoff (Wheelchair Warrior at 6 MPH)

Meet Jillian Banfield (Bicycle Mayor of Halifax, Canada)

Meet Arcy Canumay (Bicycle Mayor of Waterloo, Canada)

Meet 31 Women Making the USA More Welcoming for Riding Bikes (the “You Go Girl!’ Series)