JOSHUA COHEN is a principal at Fat Pencil Studio.
I spend a good part of my professional life figuring out how to visualize complex details ranging from construction defects to crash sequences. We've done some great work at Fat Pencil Studio this year, but I am equally proud of some out-of-office accomplishments. Over the summer I had an opportunity to lead the planning effort for some bicycle shelters at our neighborhood school. It was a challenging undertaking, though not in the way you might think.
In this project, the bike shelter structure was the easy part. The school district has a pre-engineered design approved for construction by parent volunteers. All I had to do was call up Parr Lumber and order the kit. The hard part was figuring out where to build them, and getting the site plan approved.
At the outset, it was clear that building in the vacated right-of-way of North Delaware Ave was a great option. We'd be able to bolt directly into existing concrete rather than pouring new foundations. Also, our project could provide motivation for the city to remove existing barricades and restore access for bicycle traffic which currently has to move onto the sidewalk to get around the closed section of the street.
In theory, it seemed like it would be an easy plan to execute. In practice, building anything in the street (even a closed street) requires a lengthy process of consulting with multiple public agency folks. So in order to make communication as smooth as possible, I resorted to my usual approach of creating visuals and sharing them around. After a bunch of phone calls and emails, I found myself sitting in a conference room with representatives from Portland Public Schools, the Bureau of Transportation, and the Parks Bureau...and that's where the magic happened. There were plenty of issues and concerns to discuss, and I was able to visualize most of them in real-time using a SketchUp model of the site. We were able to reach consensus, and the meeting concluded with a clear picture of the best option for moving forward.
Compared with the planning process, the actual construction was quick. Our team of six volunteers (with some construction experience) were able to erect two shelters in a single day. The bike racks were installed a few days later, and they've been in use nearly every day since. Our school has some hard-core junior bike commuters!