Bollards survey

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 131.

Previous newsletter articles have highlighted the dangers posed by some of the bollards installed in various places along the Busway. This, plus problems with replacement bollards on the Carter Bridge, prompted me to start a survey of bollards in Cambridge. The intention is to determine where bollards are really needed and also locations where bollards could be removed. I hope we can look at the many different designs and identify those which are more cyclist-friendly.

Why have bollards at all?

Bollards are frequently used on cycle routes to prevent access by motor vehicles. Sometimes this is very important, for example, to prevent vehicles which are much heavier than people on foot and on cycles from overloading a bridge which is not designed to carry the weight of motor vehicles. In 2013 someone tried to drive a car over the Carter Bridge because the old bollard, I think wooden, had disappeared.

Bollards may also be used alongside roads, for example to protect road verges from vehicles parking on them, or to mark boundaries.

Sometimes metal barriers or ‘pram arms’, partial barriers, are used to restrict access.

Left: Cyclestreets 87268. Right: Cyclestreets 87267
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

Types of bollard

There are many types of bollard around Cambridge, in a variety of different materials and styles.

At the eastern end of the Carter Bridge there are three different bollards (above left). From the left: an old wooden one, a relatively recent white painted concrete one and an old metal one.

Wood: Quite common, presumably reasonably cheap but usually square section. The wooden bollards on Gresham Road (above right) have weathered to a dark brown.

Wood-like: These bollards (below left) with reflective inserts, made by Glasdon, look like wood but I think may be recycled plastic.

Concrete: Usually columnar and quite large in diameter. These ones (below right) which were installed on the Carter Bridge in July 2016, but have since been removed, are particularly badly positioned. As the photographer explained: ‘Although the bollards are placed centrally in the cycle track, the “effective” (i.e. usable) part of the track is not central on the track. The southern (station side) edge has a railing and overhanging vegetation that reduce the effective width, pushing the centre of the usable path to the north. This is exacerbated by the bend in the path, and the fact that the path is well below the recommended minimum effective width of 3m.’

Left: Cyclestreets 80936.
Right: Cyclestreets 83124. Photo: Alasdair Massie.
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent
Cyclestreets 85451
Image as described adjacent

Plastic: White plastic bollards like that at the western end of the Carter cycle bridge (right). This incorporates a blue ‘shared-use pedestrian/cycle’ symbol and red reflective bands.

Metal: These include ones which look like Victorian cast iron as well as square section ones.

Movable: Most bollards are solid and immovable but some have been designed to flex, or can be lowered or removed.

Left: Cyclestreets 71190. Right: Cyclestreets 34712.
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

A removable bollard (left) which can be unlocked and lifted out. This highly visible bollard (right) flexes if you hit it but would not be very effective against preventing motor vehicles accessing areas.

Awkward, dangerous and/or unnecessary?

An awkward one (below left) where bollard and kerbs on a narrow stretch of City Road as it joins Prospect Row by the Free Press (pub on left) make this an awkward corner.

Too many bollards (below right). These have since all been removed.

Left: Cyclestreets 87339. Right: Cyclestreets 72913.
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

The evil little posts on the Busway have already caused several accidents, some serious, and as a result some have been removed or moved. These highlighted several issues: position, height, colouring, materials and visibility.

Position: Any obstacles placed on the cycling path are easy to overlook and are likely to cause accidents.

Bollard placement obstructs pavement and cycles (below left). While the width between them is okay (but could be better), the fact that the bollards are in the middle of the cut-through, rather than either side, obstructs cycling. This is particularly the case for any kind of tricycle: these would have to get one wheel up on the kerb to get through, risking tipping.

Height: Taller bollards are more visible when a cyclist is looking further ahead and less likely to be obscured by other cyclists.

Left: Cyclestreets 86435. Right: Cyclestreets 72913.
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

Colouring: Metallic grey blends in far too well with the colour of many cycling path surfaces. Wood tends to weather to a greyish colour. More contrast would improve visibility.

Materials: Some bollards are square or rectangular with potentially sharp edges. What’s worse, some have a metal plate on top (above right). One can imagine the injuries these could cause. At least black and yellow tape has been added to aid visibility as does the white paint on the ground.

Visibility: Some bollards are almost invisible at night due to a combination of colour and poor reflectors. Not all incorporate reflective material and this can wear off. Many cycle lights are not powerful enough to show up reflectors on bollards.

Better bollards

Perhaps the most important aspect is to improve visibility. These white plastic bollards at the west end of the Carter bridge (below left) over the railway are quite bright and contrast with the grey surface. They also do not have sharp edges and incorporate ‘cycle’ pictograms. Furthermore, an area of white paint has been added around their base.

Possibly equally, or more, important is position. The bollard shown below right is not in a good position – at the start of a double bend, which makes it awkward to negotiate and restricts visibility. But the designers have at least taken appropriate steps to minimise the hazard that the bollard presents to legitimate path users.

Left:Cyclestreets 85757. Right: Cyclestreets 27416. Photos: Alasdair Massie
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

The bollard is placed centrally on the path so that people naturally pass either side of it, keeping left.

There is very clear hazard hatching around the bollard so there is no excuse for anybody to plough into it. It isn’t pretty (cobbles in contrasting colour would have looked better) and it is a bit short (Dutch guidance suggests 5m in advance) but it does the job.

Ideally, bollards should be placed on straight sections of path with clear line-of-sight in both directions. If people are expected to turn into a path with a bollard, then the bollard must be set back far enough from any junction so that a person cycling with a trailer is able to straighten out before encountering the obstruction. The bollard(s) should be placed so that there is an intuitive side to choose when cycling past: the path should be split into halves, or quarters, but never into thirds. Finally, the bollards must be spaced so that all intended users are able to pass comfortably: not only bicycles, but also tricycles and mobility scooters must be considered.

There are many more bollards in Cambridge – I see them almost everywhere I look now – and some are certainly more attractive and more cyclist-friendly than others. Please continue adding photos to the Cyclestreets photomap and tag them ‘bollard’. To join the discussion about what makes a bollard cyclist-friendly and which ones we should campaign to remove, go to cyclescape 2961. We hope to produce a briefing paper on bollards, explaining, with illustrations, how to position bollards if they are needed and which types are more cyclist-friendly.

Monica Frisch