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Bollards: Why & What

Article Table of Contents

author’s note: it’s always fun to see your own stuff on the Hacker News front page! The comments thread got ~460 comments!

What are bollards #

The what and the why in a single image:


A bollard is:

any sort of physical barricade strong enough, shaped in such a way, that if a vehicle tries to overlap with the bollard in location, intentional or not, the vehicle cannot cross. Sometimes they’re built into the physical environment, sometimes not. They can be movable or not. Large and intrusive, or not.


source: @worldbollard twitter account

In the words of a local city engineer’1, as he was explaining why a bollard placed near where pedestrians congregate to cross a large roadway would be inappropriate:

Barriers (bollards, guardrail, etc.) are considered for installation if the result of a vehicle striking the barrier will be less severe than hitting the unshielded object.

So a placement like this makes intuitive sense:


source: @worldbollard twitter account

You’ll never unsee this:

👉 Take another look at where they put the guardrail

You see guardrail everywhere. It protects drivers from hitting hard objects by bouncing cars back into their proper place.

But public works and transportation departments routinely install guardrails on the outside of a sidewalk.

Guardrail brings good fortune to motorists, not so much for the unlucky people using the sidewalks. You’re pushing a stroller or walking the dog when the out-of-control vehicle careening towards certain doom in a ditch is saved, but you’re the innocent casualty.

This engineering malfeasance is directly related to clear zones.

By creating Clear Zones, roadway agencies can increase the likelihood that a roadway departure results in a safe recovery rather than a crash, and mitigate the severity of crashes that do occur. - Federal Highway Administration guidance on ‘clear zones’

Once you’re aware of how engineers misuse the clear zone and put pedestrians at risk, you’ll see it everywhere. Intelligent, credentialed professionals do this all the time all across the country. Not only are they getting away with wildly dangerous behavior, it doesn’t even phase them.

Please, please stop evaluating local transportation administrations as competent. I’ve hung out with these people, gone on walks with them, driven around with them, listened to them get excited about a new pedestrian affordence they’ve installed, and the lack of awareness and close-mindedness (which is obviously necessary to sustain a shitty system creaking into it’s 100th year of existence) is stunning.

To interact with local transportation administrations requires that you 1) self-abandon, and 2) maintain performative allegiance to a pseudo-scientific view of the world.

The main feature of a bollard is used, by city engineers as a reason they cannot be placed anywhere near roads.

Here’s a beautiful bollard doing it’s thing:

What are not bollards? #

It’s tricky to hit the right emotional tone of why bollards matter. Sometimes it seems academic and dry, sometimes its very visceral and raw.

Where there are not bollards, there are careening, speeding vehicles, and often enough death and destruction.

To park a vehicle, one needs to press the correct pedal. When people are driving unfamiliar vehicles, or rushed, or whatever, sometimes the wrong pedal gets pushed. Would you suggest that this small error should result in death of people and the elimination of businesses and buildings?

Here’s a vehicle coming to almost a complete stop, then accelerating into and through an entire building into the parking lot beyond.

Every time I ‘feel’ a vehicle pointed at me, even when I’m inside of a building, I’m aware that if the driver has a heart attack or makes a small mistake, I might be staring at them from the end of their hood, above a crushed pelvis. “Oh well, one espresso please.”

Please watch the following video:


I take issue with the video caption, I’d rather it be:

vehicle operator makes error when parking

Lets look at another example.

When there are not bollards, in areas where people are promised safety, even if everyone behaves correctly, there are still failures. For example…

Once, a widely respected member of a local software development community and their partner (also a widely respected member of the same community) were walking on a sidewalk in California one night a few years ago. Far from them, a speeding car struck another car of course careened through the sidewalk. Both friends were hit by the car. She was killed instantly, he was knocked unconscious, woke up days later to find out the news. The language in the article is full of ‘this was an unavoidable tragedy’, though i think it’s obvious a local city engineer ought to be held criminally liable for their neglect.

Because not only was it entirely preventable, it was also statistically inevitable. Not putting bollards where they need to be is like not only not wearing a seatbelt when driving, but arguing that seatbelts should not be available in cars because usually they’re not needed.

A bollard is just a seatbelt for someone outside of the vehicle.

So… this is the sort of devastation done to a community that everyone would obviously want to prevent. And this exact pattern plays out many times a day.

So, when there’s not bollards, often enough, there are cars.

Here’s another example - even soulless corporate entities understand bollards and appreciate that they have a duty of responsibility to people who are using their spaces:

7-Eleven to pay $91 million to suburban man who lost both legs because they didn’t install bollards at that location.

It’s a normal occurrence. Notice down below how often this kind of thing happens. I hope there’s bollards at every 7/11 now:

A 57-year-old suburban man who became a double amputee after a car pinned his legs against the front of a Bensenville 7-Eleven will receive a $91 million payout from the convenience store chain

In a moment, you’ll see the kinds of vehicle-strikes-building results this refers to.

The case was the first in which attorneys had access to some 15 years of reports from 7- Eleven, which identified some 6,253 storefront crashes at 7-Eleven stores across the country, Power said. Data from a previous lawsuit against the company identified another 1,525 crashes between 1991 and 1996.

Who in the story do you think uttered the following?

It is important to note that this unfortunate accident was caused by a reckless driver who pled guilty, and this store followed all local building codes and ordinances.

That was the legal representation of 7/11, but you can also hear the local city manager or city engineer saying ‘it was not my fault either!’. (“followed all local building codes and ordinances”)

Maybe it would feel poetic if he was also a car-user, having his life destroyed by a car, but he didn’t even have a car.

Carl was a frequent customer of the Bensenville store, and most days would walk a few blocks from an apartment he shared with his three sons to buy his morning coffee…

[the morning of this tragic-yet-statistically-inevitable systemic failure] Carl’s ride was running late, and a man pulling into a parking space in front of the store stepped on his car’s accelerator instead of the brake. The car lurched over the curb, across a sidewalk and pinned Carl against the storefront, causing injuries that would require the amputation of both his legs above the knees. Another driver had crashed into the front of the same store 16 months earlier, Power said.

What does not bollards look like #

In the context of ‘bollards as protecting store-fronts from cars’, sort of akin to a physical insurance policy, here’s what moving vehicles, through stores, can look like.

I wonder what losses the involved parties were able to recoup. Presumably insurance would make partial financial repairs, but it would all be at great opportunity cost, hassle, sadness, anger.

Even a rock, obtained functionally for free, could have fully prevented this. Again, no one’s fault, but it hurts to see damage accrue.

👉 driver presses wrong peddle when parking outside store

I dislike the caption. It says “woman forgets…” which feels like it’s possibly playing into the misogynistic sentiment that some people are, for reasons of fundamental inferiority, unable to develop a certain skill.

It should say:

vehicle operator makes error when parking


This sort of incident would be perfectly prevented by bollards like this:


source: @worldbollard

I live in the Cheesman park area in Denver, there’s already plenty of bollards and bollard-passing objects (trees, light poles, boulders) and I’d love for there to be many more, following similar-enough patterns of what is already placed, with some reasonable, obvious iteration.

Bollards are like icebergs. Some bollards are not placed deep into the ground or very strong, and might deform under a vehicle impact. Some bollards are quite firmly placed.


source: @worldbollard

  1. This was the city engineer of a local municipality, and I’ve had direct, 1:1 conversations with the city engineer in {another municipality in which I lived/owned property} after parents in a local neighborhood demanded a meeting about the dangerous road that their kids were walking to school alongside. The engineer said ‘due to traffic count data, the road does not qualify for any state-funded improvements’, which is obviously a 🖕🏻 to the kids he was failing. There are many cheap was to slow traffic without speed bumps, police, cameras, signs, and half million dollar increments of spending, but people committed to bad plans will use their poor imagination as a reason for why something must not be done. He gave me permission to run my own road experiments, though, which I did, and it worked great. example 1, example 2, example 3

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