In praise of the humble bollard

Is it expensive? Is it complicated? No, it’s your humble neighbourhood bollard!

Why should we love bollards? Because, while most people wouldn’t give them a second glance, they can have the superpower of making streets better places for people to live, work, play, as well as better to walk or cycle through. How?

Preventing rat-run traffic

A Sheffield example in Hillsborough.

Many local streets are plagued by traffic which isn’t even from or serving the people who live there – it has become a route through for people getting somewhere else more conveniently.

A resident on Hawksley Avenue (above) said:

“this street used to be used as a cut through to avoid Hillsborough Corner, so consequently it was very noisy, dirty and not very safe.”

Now it is access-only for vehicles from one end, and so makes it a much better walking and cycling route to the park.

A more comprehensive example in Broomhall, where tackling a past problem with kerb-crawling has removed direct traffic and so made a better area for walking and cycling. (Yes that gap is a bit narrow.)

A key part of enlightened Dutch traffic planning is to prevent traffic using residential areas as thoroughfares, keeping those roads as convenient through-routes by foot or cycle, but becoming access-only for motor vehicles.

The easiest way this can be done reliably is… bollards. There’s no sneaking past them when no traffic warden is around. (You can also use attractive planters, trees or remodel whole areas, but as a start bollards will get the main result: dramatically reduced traffic on the streets where people live, play and can now walk and cycle in peace.) For more examples from Waltham Forest area see the E17 Modal Filters twitter account.

Wooden bollards protecting a street from traffic in Waltham Forest

This kind of traffic calming was how Waltham Forest in north London successfully reduced traffic by 11,000 vehicles per day, removing over half the traffic on the streets changed, and still a reduction of 16% overall when including the main roads that become the alternative.

So, traffic doesn’t just ‘go somewhere else’… it also evaporates. People make choices about their travel, and if the level of convenience for driving goes down, while also making other choices like walking or cycling more appealing, the balance shifts. (And, of course, driving from any one point to any other is still possible – no one is banned from using cars or unable to get deliveries.)

What about access for emergency services? They’ll benefit from clearer roads when the area becomes less congested generally, and there’s also lots of ways for their direct access to be kept available.

Protecting school streets

Begging parents not to drive children to school or to park dangerously near the gates is something most schools have tried, and sadly found it rarely works.

But the London borough of Camden have done something which does – temporary bollards which are raised by staff at school drop off and pick up times. They transform the street (which was also used by large vehicles which encroached onto the pavement) and as a result more children are now walking and scooting to school.

Edinburgh council are also having success with schemes which apply to more complex road areas than bollards can deal with. They create school zones and ban drivers entering them (except residents for access) at school times. This relies on officers for enforcement, which starts off with a police presence and tapers down through daily traffic wardens, to spot checks. They’ve also found a notable increase in children walking to school.

Other uses: protecting cycle lanes

The bollard’s slimmer cousin, the wand, can often be found giving simple but effective separation in painted cycle lanes. These then turn from just another bit of road that some drivers will use whenever they want, into convenient, clear space for people to use to get around.

These wands in Leicester are part of a range of things the city is getting right when it comes to improving their roads for cycling.  Wand bollards are a very cheap way for designs of fully protected cycleways to be installed fast and proven in the wild, and gain public and political support by showing how things work out in practice. They can then lead to more permanent engineering changes, as they’re doing in New York.

When you hear that improvements will all take many years and cost too much, imagine what some wands (and political courage) could do.

Great, but still there should be as few of them as possible: not like this please…

Careless or over-zealous use of bollards can also cause problems, so don’t go overboard! To allow people to cycle through easily (and on all kinds of bike, trike and mobility aid) gaps between them should be no narrower than 1.5m.

Ayr – These are probably not really needed.


In New Ash Green. Getting in everyone’s way.
The Wicker, Sheffield. These posh ones, on a shared use crossing, aren’t helping anyone (and the cars parking on the pavement behind can obviously still get there!).

Where do you know that could benefit?

Do you want your streets and neighbourhood to prioritise places for people, not traffic? Do you want everyone to have cleaner air and real choice for getting around? Why not let your local councillors know?

5 thoughts on “In praise of the humble bollard

  1. Agreed but let’s have bollards that are visible! Bollards that are painted black on poorly lit streets are a hazard. They should have some reflective material on them. A lot of older people are taking up cycling whose vision, while fine for general cycling, isn’t good enough to spot a black bollard on a black background – and with more people cycling, you could be following other cyclists who obscure the view in front of you.

    1. I agree, they should be visible (and decent cycleways should be lit at night too). I think good design standards do specify minimum visibility standards for them. The examples above are fairly mixed on this front. The wooden ones especially, though they are attractive too.

  2. dedicated cycle paths and pedestrian areas is a brilliant achievement. please keep up the good work. the bollards block vehicles and signs warn drivers.if drivers go racing round then its only a matter of time.better they hit bollards they should know are there and should be able to avoid if complying with the highway code. slow impact does little damage. proof positive is the number of bumpers and doors dented. surely not all by poorly lit or painted bollards..lets start thinking in terms of people not cars.

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