Revenge of the Bollards

Is it a design fault, or is there some malice afoot in the Bollards War?

The UK city of Manchester has introduced something called ‘retractable bollards’ (non UK folk may call them posts) that sink into the ground when an approved vehicle approaches. (Sensors trigger the bollard’s retraction.) Great idea, right, since it means that buses and mail vans can get into pedestrian zones of the city but others can’t. The only problem is other drivers:

  • who assume that if a bus can get through, so can they; or who
  • try to cheat the system by sneaking through after the bus

This is what it looks like in action (thanks to Charles):

Now Manchester isn’t the first to try these bollards. Edinburgh ditched them last year after spending £150,000 when a local paper led a public outcry (I always love a good outcry.)

As you can see from the video, getting impaled on a bollard is not fun. They come back up as soon as the permitted vehicle has passed, so even the fastest driver isn’t going to have much luck. The Manchester Evening News reports some folk being taken to hospital and cars being written off. A 63-year old man died in Cambridge after crashing into one. This is all somewhat ironic given, according to another report in the paper, the bollards were introduced “on a trial basis because of the street’s high casualty rate.”

Surprisingly, many of those commenting support the bollards (variously spear bollards, rising bollards, those bollards, bollards from hell, and, inevitably, Never Mind the Bollards.) One points out the guy driving the SUV/4×4 is clearly trying to speed thro before the bollards come up. You can only imagine the conversation taking place as his partner grabs their kid and struts off (“Bollards! You bollarding idiot! I told you you’d never make through the bollarding bollards!”).

My tupennies’ worth: I think traffic maiming (as opposed to traffic calming) is a great idea but doesn’t go far enough. We need similar measures to punish, sorry deter, drivers who routinely flout the law and common decency. Why not, for example, deploy the retractable bollards elsewhere, like

  • the centre of a restricted parking space, so it would rise at the end of the designated period, impaling the vehicle if the driver had overstayed his alloted time;
  • at random points on the hard shoulder on toll roads/motorways so that cars illegally using it as a fast lane would be impaled,  or flipped over into an adjacent field

Where necessary, bollards could be replaced by other features such as

  • a mechanical arm, installed on the roadside and connected to a speed sensor, which would crush cars passing by too fast or too slow, depending on what irritated other drivers the most.
  • or cars driving through built-up areas too fast would be taken out by snipers deployed in trees/tall buildings. If necessary the snipers could be automated.
  • cars straddling two lanes or changing lanes without indicating first would be sliced in half by retractable blades intermittently rising out of the demarcating lines
  • motorbikes using the sidewalk (a particular bane in my neck of the woods) would risk having their tyres slashed by strips of spikes activated by the annoying sound of approaching underpowered Chinese-made engines.

Of course, there’s always a less, er, physical option. The retractable bollard contains a second sensor, which tells it that there’s a second, unauthorized vehicle passing over it. It doesn’t rise, but instead squirts evil-smelling goo onto the bottom of the car which renders the vehicle uninhabitable for at least a month. The driver is suitably chastened but no one dies.

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01. December 2006 by jeremy
Categories: Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Ah, bollards.. well, anyone that tries to drive in Cambridge deserves to be bollarded – in a city that was built for horses and carts, even the bollard-proof buses struggle, and then there is Emmanuel Street corner where the “overhang” from the front of the single-decker buses can easily wipe out an unsuspecting pedestrian! 4×4? Forget it – use the Park ‘n Ride and enjoy Cambridge by foot.

  2. This is a great blog. Jeremy, you rock.