Monday, 19 August 2013

Bollards on cycle-paths provide both an opportunity and danger ("The Fifty Bollard Game")

I took this photo in 2006 near Eindhoven
Bollards converted a country road into
a cycle-only thorough route. Read more
about country roads
I've been interested in the use of bollards on Dutch cycle facilities for a long time. They stand out to cycling visitors to this country as there are thousands of these bollards and they're almost always installed in order to demarcate places for cycling from those for driving.

Bollards provide the least expensive way to begin to unravel routes for motor vehicles from those for cycles. Bollards offer one of the simplest and most effective cycling measures. But it must be remembered that there is no single technique which works everywhere. Doing this is a first step applicable in some places but you need to also do all the other effective things to achieve a high cycling modal share.

Also from 2006, motor through traffic
calmed in a village, with bike bypass.
The Fifty Bollard Game
During the September 2011 Study Tour, one of the participants, Kevin Hickman, proposed a game. He mused that fifty bollards at around €100 each would not be a very large investment for any city or district but if installed correctly they could result in a substantial improvement for cycling. The "game" proposed is to be played by cycle-campaigners assuming they have fifty bollards at their disposal and working out where they would be best placed to improve conditions for cycling in their area. This is an interesting idea which can lead into positive campaigning and I've been meaning to write about it for nearly two years now, however I held back because I knew bollards are not entirely positive. They are used extensively in the Netherlands, but there are limits and bollards are sometimes unpopular because they can cause problems. More on that later.

Already old infrastructure in Assen
in 2007. Direct by bike, not by car.
There are sometimes rather fanciful notions floated about how Dutch drivers behave markedly differently to drivers in other countries. In fact, just as people everywhere are much the same, drivers everywhere are much the same. This should come as no surprise as while some cycling campaigners may appear to forget it sometimes, drivers actually are people.

Cycle-paths are sufficiently attractive that The Netherlands has no need to use physical barriers to prevent cyclists from wanting to use roads, but sometimes bollards are required to prevent drivers from using cycle-facilities or cycle-only through roads as short-cuts.

Bollard to prevent drivers from using
a bicycle underpass in Assen
Bollards appear primarily where cycling routes meet driving routes. They're also used to prevent minor roads from being used for through journeys (segregating modes without a cycle-path and helping to unravel driving routes from cycling routes) and in other places, for example to discourage parking of cars where they are not wanted.

It is not completely unknown, but it is rare that bollards on cycle-paths in the Netherlands cause cyclists to have to slow down. They are used to keep motor vehicles away, not to make cycling inconvenient. The distance between bollards should never be less than one metre. This is required so that cyclists with disabilities can go everywhere that the able bodied can and it results in tricycles, trailers and bicycles heavily laden with bulging panniers being able to pass easily between barriers.

Good Examples from my extensive collection of bollard photos

Very narrow street in Zwolle. Perhaps a road like this would be considered to have "no room for cycle-paths" elsewhere, but in the Neherlands it's made into a no-go zone for motor vehicles. Black bollards are not ideal.
Cars are not to be parked on this grass verge near a school
New wide cycle-path in Zwolle. Motorists kept off by bollard also used to divide the two lanes on the cycle-path and to provide a very obvious indication of where the junction is. Bikes have priority at this crossing. This is safe only with careful design. Note how the cycle-path surface is continuous while the road surface is broken.
Bridge in new suburb of Assen. Bikes have enhanced permeability over cars, and as a result, cyclists have shorter journeys than drivers. This makes cycling more attractive than driving.
Industrial area in Assen. A single bollard motorists from using the cycle-path as a short-cut or making a u-turn in this location.
1970s residential area in Assen. Bollards used either side of a crossing between cycle-path and road to prevent drivers using the more direct route available by bike. This is analogous to the example above with the bridge in the new suburb. The same policies have been successfully applied for decades.
Decades ago this was a quiet road through the countryside. It would now be used by drivers if not for the use of bollards to transform it into a very attractive cycling only route through Assen where cyclists again gain an advantage of more direct journeys and shorter distances.
To get from there to here in this residential area by car involves a considerable detour. Shorter routes make cycling more attractive, whatever your age.

Not actually bollards but a good example from Cambridge. A rat-run was eliminated, transforming residential streets to be relatively quiet for their residents and making a good through route by bike. The city needs more of this. I tried to encourage residents of the road where we lived to ask for the same treatment but they preferred being able to drive in both directions over quiet and safety for their children. The use of planters only really makes sense if they will be maintained properly.

Bad examples
Many bad examples result from misguided attempts to exclude mopeds from cycle-paths. In these cases the cure is very often worse than the disease. "Invisible" bollards or bollards placed so close together that they impede cycling or hidden around a corner so that they provide an unpleasant surprise for cyclists are also not good infrastructure.
Almost invisible concrete post in the middle of a cycle-path in Eindhoven, probably totally invisible after dark. I took this photo in 2001 so it is very likely that this has been changed.

Industrial area in Assen. Bollards used as a traffic calming pinch point to slow large vehicles and provide a bicycle bypass but because they do so by diverting trucks into the space occupied by bikes this could be dangerous. Because it's a non-through route industrial area and there is not much traffic here this is probably not a great problem, but this is not something which would work well on a street with lots of motor vehicles and lots of bicycles.

These bollards in Cambridge prevent motorists from using a useful cut-through accessible by bike, but they are also impossible to use with a trailer behind a bicycle. The black paint does nothing to make them more visible at night.
The other end of the same cut-through. It's an official cycle-route, so why has it been made so difficult to access by bike ? The black paint makes these obstructions difficult to see under some conditions, the triangular arms of these bollards are almost invisible at speed and the gap between them is extremely narrow. The potential for injury here is very high indeed.
Narrow bicycle bridge in Cambridge. After riding downhill and picking up speed, you have to stop and dismount to negotiate these barriers, which may well catch you by surprise because they're not easy to see. First your brakes had better work well, but if you're riding a three wheeler, pulling a trailer or have a disability you'll have problems getting through here under any circumstances. These obstructions perform no useful purpose.
Bicycle/foot bridge in Cambridge. After picking up speed downhill, these three bollards are clustered behind a blind corner. Because this bridge is already very narrow, only slightly over 2 m wide in total, such a dangerous obstruction is not required to prevent motorists from using it so it's not clear what problem these three bollards are supposed to solve. Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians is increased because the straightest line possible for a cyclist riding at speed is to use the pedestrian side of the path. Danger of losing control is increased by the British practice of installing textured paving the wrong way around on the cycling side of the path.
The other end of the same bridge has the same problem. Another three closely clustered bollards which serve no useful purpose.
Excessive bollards in the middle of the cycle-half of a not very wide, not very long and strangely designed path in Cambridge. These help to ensure that motorists have priority at the entrance to a primary school. Schools for children too young to drive cars should not be designed around cars, they should be designed to encourage a high level of independence amongst the children who attend the school.
Cycling England was a government (under)funded organisation which promoted cycling in the UK between 2005 and 2011. I wrote about their unfortunate demise. Sadly, CE set their standards far too low. This photo was actually on their website as a "good" example of infrastructure. The "good" aspect of it was that the bollards are offset so that cyclists who wriggle enough can get between the gaps. Very Slowly. This is not nearly good enough. This example has far too many bollards across a narrow path and good cycling infrastructure does not make cyclists slow down and wriggle. Quite apart from how much inconvenience it causes for someone who simply wants to get somewhere by bike, how well does this work with a trailer, for disabled people etc. ?
What's wrong with bollards ? How are the problems being solved ?
Local newspaper cutting from Assen.
Bollards are removed in winter to
allow snow ploughs and gritting
onto the cycle-path. Drivers
are warned that removal of bollards
doesn't mean they can drive on them.
Colliding with a rigid metal, wood or concrete bollard on a bicycle can cause serious injury or even death. This is a surprisingly common occurrence. Hundreds of injuries a year result from cyclists riding into bollards in The Netherlands. Though we have to recognize that this happens in a place where there are millions of cyclists and these cyclists are the safest anywhere in the world, we must in any case be very careful about recommending bollards and careful to apply them in a way that is not dangerous.

This type of collision is over-represented in injuries to older people. These injuries have risen in recent years along with the rise in cycling amongst older people. Older people may not have such good eyesight and may not see the bollards so easily. When they fall, they are injured more easily. Another group of cyclists who are injured more frequently than average by bollards are faster cyclists who may simply not have enough reaction time if a bollard is not adequately visible due to vegetation or a blind corner.

Dutch bollards are usually painted with red and white stripes which make them reasonably easy to see in daytime, but the small reflectors often fitted don't help all that much at night time. However they are painted, bollards remain quite small objects and it's impossible to make sure that people will always see them.

For several years now the policy in The Netherlands has been to remove or reduce the number of bollards in order to reduce their potential for injury. Where they are still required, experiments are taking place different types of bollards such as the flexible bollards shown in this video:

Note who is shown using the cycle-path. It is normal for racing cyclists to use cycle-paths in The Netherlands because cycle-paths offer the same advantages of shorter distances and better safety for fast cyclists as they do for slow cyclists. In this case, both racers and retired people on electric bikes are shown using the cycle-path with the new bollards, these being the two groups most affected.

Painted markings to highlight bollards
on the cycle-path aren't entirely new.
This photo is from the 2006 Study Tour
Six month long evaluations are currently taking place across the country with the aim of comparing different new designs of bollards. The aim of each is the same - reducing injury rates. As well as being flexible, the new bollards include such features as greater width, lighter colours to make them more visible and solar powered lighting for better visibility after dark. Trials are also using such things as changed design of paint on the cycle-path and textured surfaces to warn cyclists that they are approaching a bollard.

Now it's your turn
If you were provided with fifty bollards, how could you use them in your location ? Are there residential streets which could better serve their residents and be better for through cycling if rat-running was stopped ? Do you have minor rural roads which need the same treatment ? Do you have places where motorists park their cars and cause problems ? Any bollards to be used should be placed sparingly as creating obstructions for cyclists is not the aim and keep in mind the Dutch experience of how excess or badly placed bollards can easily result in injury.

Also consider what bollards you would like to remove in your location ? Bear in mind that successful bollard usage requires that they are both visible and easy to pass. If you have clusters as shown in some of the bad examples above then the situation would almost certainly be improved by removing most of them.

Arguments that cycling is "too expensive" to provide for do not really hold water. Cycling budgets are small compared with the budgets for other projects (including other transport projects) in every country, including The Netherlands. However the possibility of improving things for cycling relatively little expense is still attractive. It provides a chance for positive campaigning.

The fifty bollard game is a first step
A good first step can be achieved by using bollards and similar techniques to improve permeability for cycling vs. other modes. This is a good thing to do, but I have to emphasize that this is only one of several possible first steps and that having played this "game" the job is not done. Campaigners must not stop at this point because you need all the things that work in the Netherlands in order to get everyone to cycle as in The Netherlands. Campaigners and planners who have low aspirations can never achieve great ends.

See the rest of the steps required
This blog can only give you an introduction to
what you need to do. For a greater understanding
Join us on a study tour.
Neither this blog nor any other can show you all the details of what makes cycling so commonplace in The Netherlands. To begin to understand this you need to experience it, preferably with a guide.

We have been learning about how and why cycling "works" in the Netherlands since last century and we've organised Cycling Infrastructure Study Tours since 2006. Take advantage of our many years of experience to reduce the time it takes for you to learn what you need to do beyond the first steps such as bollards.

We can organise a tour on any date to suit your group. We also organise open tours each year to make the tours affordable for individuals who are not part of a group. Many hundreds of people have already learnt about Dutch cycling infrastructure by coming on our tours, take part yourself in order to find out about the other steps you need to take to transform your home into a place which approaches Dutch levels of liveability.

Kennington People on Bikes wrote about problems due to bollards in London. You still want more ? Try the Bollards of London blog.


andreacasalotti said...

Bollards and barriers are symbols of the British mentality of not trusting people, which results in the majority suffering because of instruments used to stop a minority.

Isn't it better to adopt a Scandinavian approach and trusting people will not drive in a cycle lane? If people abuse a facility, there is no hooligan that is not deterred by a hefty fine.

PJ McNally said...

Thank you! This is extremely helpful!

Where I live - North Oxford - we have a very useful cycle and pedestrian link over the ring road, in the form of a dedicated bridge.

It's on my daily commute. It's also part of NCN route 51. But every single day, one thing about it gets to me - the bollards at either end, which are a daily exercise in stunt riding, being so close together.

Imagine if a commute to work (by car) included a road with trees, parking meters, post boxes, or bollards exactly 1.9m apart, at intervals. That is, only slightly wider than your car / wing mirrors. That's the situation here.

I also sometimes tow my daughter in a bike trailer over this bridge.

The clearance for its wheels between the bollards is literally a couple of cm, and if that wasn't bad enough, you have to be sure to enter the bollards NOT in a straight line, but in a particular curve, as they are staggered and so the trailer needs to curve to clear both sets!

To clarify - it is not possible to ride a bike, with or even without a bike trailer, in a straight line though this obstacle, on a straight bit of cycle route, at a dedicated bridge. The bollards make

If you look at the picture, there are FIVE bollards at the entrance to the bridge! They have additional metal at handlebar height, to make them even more of an obstruction.

Why were five installed? Why not one, in the middle, on the dividing line between pedestrians and bikes? Or, if the bridge was too attractive to motorbikes etc, why not three?

Which design standards were followed, in deciding how to place these bollards?

Bollards number 1, 3, and 5 in the photo serve a useful purpose, closing off the route to motor traffic.

Bollards 2 and 4 serve no useful purpose, making this national cycle route technically challenging to ride by bike, even more so with children in tow, and likely impossible with a trike, recumbent bicycle, or hand-cycle as used by many people with disabilities. They force cyclists to swerve, perhaps into the path of pedestrians.

As such, how would we go about having them removed?



Alan Braggins said...

Some of the Cambridge bollards are supposedly so narrow to try and stop illegal use of cyclepaths by motorcycles.
But as you say, often make it unusable for trikes, recumbents, loaded bikes, trailers, etc..
Here are some more barriers on a shared use bridge near me:

Doug Culnane said...

I would use them to beat some sense into the cycle traffic planners in Vienna.

Kevin Love said...

I certainly agree with the dangers posed by bollards. In my opinion, the planter option is better. Even a "planter without plants" ie concrete rectangle is better as it provides more visibility so that people do not crash into the barrier.

Another option is to use curbs. Here is an example in Toronto:

Since the curb is continuous, except at the crossing point, people are aware of it and unlikely to crash into it.

Kevin Love said...

It is also possible to combine bollards and curbs. Here is an example from Toronto.

Randy Golden said...

Bollards are also available that will flex upon impact. This would reduce the threat that rigid bollards may pose to cyclists and still communicate to drivers that entry is not acceptable. See flexible bollards here:

KEdas said...

One additional note. Bollards should be at least 110cm in height in order to prevent broken legs. Reason – handlebar should be the first object to take energy from accidental collision.
I've tried that near Zvolle last September, when hit unexpected bollard in the middle of rural cyclepath while looking at the map.

Donk said...

What is road/town planners obsession with textured paving? I understand the knobbly bits at pedestrian crossings but why the cycle lane stuff? If it's to stop skate boarders then just why? You won't stop them so stop gimping legitimate users, same with slalom gates/handlebar traps on cycle tracks, if it's to prevent motorbikes using it then please stop it, it doesn't work!

David Hembrow said...

Donk: The textured paving is supposed to help blind people using a stick.

It's used over here with ridges parallel with the direction of walking so that blind people can feel the ridges by moving their stick from side to side (see an example here, the lighter looking paving). Now this is great. Everywhere should have it, right ?

However, in the UK it's installed the wrong way around on pavements (by 90 degrees) so that a stick being waved from side to side doesn't feel the ridges. They also, for some unknown reason, put the stuff which is the right way around for blind people on the cycle-path where it causes problems for cyclists.

And yes, "It doesn't work" is a pretty good summary of the situation.

Donk said...

Riiight, cheers David, I did know the dimple ones were for blind people on crossings and train platforms was unsure about the ridges ones. Got some on a set of steps on a subway near home, looked perfect for stopping skateboard sized wheels so assumed that was why. Also have ridged ones on a slight bend on a footpath/cycleway near work couldn't figure out why.

Bend in the path/steps both hazards for the visually impaired. Doh! obvious when you think about it.

But yeah pretty sketchy for cyclists when it's raining.

Sir Velo said...

While I share the general feeling of despair at the efforts of UK authorities in their provision of cycling "facilities" I assume that in many cases the bollards have been designed to reduce cycling speed, particularly where the cycle path is going to interact with a pedestrian pavement or link back to the road network. While these could, of course, be designed with far greater consideration for the needs of cyclists (particularly those with trailers) I reckon, if challenged, the response of the authorities would be that they are "cycle calming" measures. Of course, if there were well designed proper segregated cycling infrastructure in the UK this kind of impediment to cycling would be unnecessary...

Pedal Pusher said...

An almost "close encounter" with a very poorly lit, not particularly reflective, bollard was one of the reasons I upgraded my bike lights from the original bottle dynamo and 2.4W filament bulb to a hub dynamo (much more power on a small-wheel bike than a bottle dynamo) and a modern LED front light - incidentally bought from you :-)

The textured pavement stuff is supposed to show which side to go - the wheels of a bike (and, for that matter, a pushchair) are supposed to roll through the "smooth" direction, rather than across the "bumpy" section, which, by virtue of being the other choice, becomes for pedestrians.
There is quite a bit of it around here (Aylesbury, one of the 6 original "cycle" towns).

the routing of some of our cycle routes is a bit odd, though - coming in from where I live, the cycle lane is mostly "shared" with pedestrians until the outer area of the shops.
- when it reaches the shops, it becomes marked as two lanes, one for cyclists, and one for pedestrians, and continues like this for a bit - then there is a side road, and a nice underpass, marked with the two lanes
- BUT the cycle lane (which was on the right - the shops being next to the "pedestrian lane" on the left) inexplicably switches sides, and goes under the underpass.
There is no reason I can fathom for the switch - on the other side of the underpass, the cycle lane ends, and there is a oneway street (going the other way), so I do what I assume to be the plan, and dismount, and wheel my bike the last 100 metres to the High Street.

But, like my wife says, be grateful for the "odd" cycle route they have given us :-)
We normally cycle almost every day (me, my wife, and our daughter), but my daughter is changing to a secondary school at the end of the summer, and that's 6 miles with no cycle lane for most of it, on an "A" road - but don't worry, she'll be going by bus, not by car :-)

Paul Martin said...

Hi David,

Excellent post, thank you.

Here is my contribution for bollard placement where I live:

Alex Rybakoff said...

We don't have much bolards here, in Finland, because of snow (it's hard to clean it around bolards).

From one point of view it's ok, just easier to ride. From other point of view, people really drive their cars and mopeds if there are no bollards :( Some places are less attractive, but shortcuts between districts, closed roads in parks and to BBQ places, roads leading to the "car-free" inner yards are quite popular :(

I think it would be nice to install bolards in places where there are many complaints. And or course good bollards, not crazy ones like in England.

PJ McNally said...

I've just struck upon what happens when councils do the same thing to people in cars, that they've been doing to people on bikes for years:

(unfortunately it's an article from the Daily Mail, which is a vile rag, but it is important to keep an eye on what people who are disagreeing with you are saying!):

"Motorists' anger at council as it installs bollards just millimetres wider than a standard car"

Neil said...

Motorbikes are certainly the excuse for the very narrow ones or the anti handlebar tops to them. But I don't believe you can stop an off road motorbike without stopping normal bicycles. They are light, narrow and very powerful, almost the same profile as a pushbike and narrower than trailers, cargo bikes or even wide panniers.

Colibri said...

There's even a website where Dutch cyclists can report bollards that they see as dangerous:
This attention to details always amazes me...

Robert said...

Britain really does excel at methods of inconveniencing all path users. They vary from minimalist designs that represent a trip hazard, to incredibly complex pieces of engineering involving poles, bars at different heights, and assorted gaps. The variety is astonishing, but the only design that does anything useful without inconveniencing everyone is the humble reflective bollard, arranged to block cars but not legitimate users. This wont stop a motorcyclist, but the presence of relatively slow-moving legitimate users (and the occasional police officer) is usually sufficient to deter them. Deterring legitimate users just makes the path more attractive to motorcyclists.
Sometimes the more complex arrangements are built in complete isolation, and there will be an inevitable muddy track around the outside showing where they have been bypassed.
For your amusement, here's a list of creative obstructions from Britain's second city, Birmingham.