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Chicago’s Chainlink Social Networking Site Launches New Branch in Memphis

Memphians cycle along tracks for the city's vintage trolley system. Photo: Ronit Bezalel

You know your city has a vibrant bicycle culture when its starts exporting good ideas to other places. Founded in 2008 in Chicago, The Chainlink social networking site (a Streetsblog sponsor) has become an indispensible resource for local cyclists, with info on commuting, recreational rides, and racing, a busy discussion forum and events calendar, and over 12,000 members.

Last year former Chicago Department of Transportation pedestrian program manager Suzanne Carlson moved to Memphis to run transportation and mobility programs for the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team, which recently became a nonprofit called Innovate Memphis. Based on her knowledge of and participation with The Chainlink from living in Chicago, Carlson had the idea of launching a new branch of the website in Memphis as way to encourage more biking, as well as transit use, in the Bluff City.

About a year and a half ago, she reached out to Chainlink owner Yasmeen Schuller about the concept. “It sounded like a great opportunity because they have tons of enthusiasm for getting more people on bikes, they’re building lots of infrastructure, and it’s already a very bikeable place,” Schuller said.

Yasmeen Schuller

In recent years civic leaders in Memphis have embraced the promotion of cycling and construction of bike facilities. They see it as a strategy to help improve health outcomes for residents and make the city a more attractive destination for companies and workers. Memphis has begun building dozens of miles of bike lanes, including the city’s first buffered and protected lanes.

A year ago Schuller and photographer Ronit Belazel traveled to home of Stax, Sun, and Graceland to document existing conditions for biking. “We rode everywhere we could and found that it’s even easier to get around by bike than Chicago because traffic is a little mellower,” she said. “We visited bicycle shops and the owners were very excited to talk to us about the local bike scene.”

Schuller soon set to work on building the new website. While the Chicago site is strictly bike-centric, Innovate Memphis requested that their Chainlink also include info and articles about the Memphis Area Transit Association’s bus network and trolley line, as well as a separate forum and calendar for public transportation-related topics and events. “With Streetsblog in Chicago, we don’t really need to cover transit and other forms of active transportation,” she said. “But Memphis decided transit needed more exposure.”

The Chainlink Memphis went live a few weeks ago, and today Schuller formally unveiled the site, inviting Memphians to sign up as members. Now she’s unleashing a publicity juggernaut to get the word out to Tennessee cyclists about this new opportunity to connect and share info.

Memphis leaders are betting that encouraging cycling will help make the city healthier and more vibrant. Photo: Ronit Bezalel

1,500 Chainlink Memphis postcards arrived from the printer today, and she’ll be mailing them to bike shops to distribute to customers, as well as promoting the site via social media and other electronic channels. Innovate Memphis will also get the word out about The Chainlink at community events.

In the future, Schuller hopes to set up a Chainlink Ambassadors program in Memphis, modeled after the one she says has been successful for getting more Chicagoans involved. She also wants to recruit a Memphis-based writer to provide boots-on-the-ground coverage of local cycling developments.

Schuller’s long-range goal is to establish Chainlink websites across the county, a strategy she compared to Streetsblog’s coat-to-coast approach. She plans to launch a site next year in Milwaukee, a city whose strong bike scene, including the Bublr bike-share system, would benefit from a new online community. “This is really the start of an exciting adventure,” she said.

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