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Bollards have been criticized as unnecessary obstacles in our trails, and have even been implicated in serious injuries. But recent terrorist events have focused attention on a lack of barriers.

arrow From the Winter 2017-18 issue of American Trails Magazine

Photo of tall post in middle of trail

Withlacoochie Rail Trail, FL; Photo by Stuart Macdonald


The bollard: a solution or a problem?

Improving security on trails collides with safety concerns


By Stuart Macdonald, Amercan Trails Magazine editor


The humble bollard is now a familiar design element of public spaces from the Federal Building in Honolulu to the White House in our nation’s capital.

Some now are urging similar protection for walkways after the truck terrorism in Nice, France and New York City. There is even a bill in Congress, the “Stopping Threats on Pedestrians (STOP) Act” (H.R. 4051). It would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund the installation of traffic barriers, including bollards and planters to keep vehicles away from bicycle paths and pedestrian areas.

The bill states "the Secretary of Transportation shall establish a program to assist bollard installation projects designed to prevent pedestrian injuries and acts of terrorism in areas utilized by large numbers of pedestrians."

On trails throughout the country, bollards appear at road crossings with the intent of discouraging vehicles while allowing trail users to pass. Many of these are just a lonely post that suggests a barrier while threatening the unwary biker or hiker in a sensitive spot.

Photo of rounded concrete posts on trail

San Diego Harbor Trail, CA; Photo by Stuart Macdonald


Other passages, like pedestrian and transit malls (downtown Denver, for instance) are crossed by numerous streets and alleys, not to mention the center lanes for buses. It would take a thicket of bollards to enclose the pedestrian spaces.

Trails are all about freedom of movement while bollards are a potentially fatal safety hazard. And is it a fair trade to prevent possible deaths by vehicular terrorism while guaranteeing that joggers and cyclists will be seriously injured by running into unexpected obstacles?

We do need to evaluate our most used, and exposed urban trails for safety. But it’s also a good time to look at how we use bollards and barriers as common management tools. We’ll be asking trail designers around the country and abroad how they feel bollards should be used (or not) and whether they can be adapted for preventing terror attacks. We welcome your ideas as well.


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