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Ensuring Cyclist Safety with Dedicated Bike Lanes: Traffic Bollards

The benefits of encouraging bicycling are clear, both for personal health and for public welfare.  Other than walking, cycling is perhaps the greenest form of transportation available.  Bicycles produce no greenhouse gasses, use no fossil fuels, and don’t require massive highways and support services.  Of course, cyclists are at increased risk of injury or death when compared to motorists, but the judicious use of traffic bollards can go a long way towards ensuring their safety.


Keeping Bike Lanes Safe for Bicyclists

One of the primary challenges of building more bicycle paths is the fact that they usually parallel public roadways, making collisions between cyclists and cars an ever-present hazard.  Simply marking dedicated bike lanes with yellow or green paint fails to protect riders from inattentive or intoxicated drivers.  Bollards, on the other hand, serve both to delineate cycle routes and to act as physical barriers to motor vehicles that would otherwise stray into the wrong lanes.


Using Bollards Properly

For bollards to function as lane protectors, they must meet three criteria:

  1. They must allow cyclists to use the pathways unimpeded.
  2. They must prevent, or at least discourage, unauthorized vehicles from using the routes.
  3. They must allow access for emergency responders.


Accomplishing these three goals means that bollard placement should follow a balanced approach that takes each of these priorities into consideration.  This document created by the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) illustrates how to accomplish this in real-world situations.  To summarize its contents, bollards for bike paths should:

1.     Follow the contours of the trails.

2.     Be substantial enough to impede motor vehicles.

3.     Be placed often enough to discourage access by motorcycle users. 


The use of linking chains and fold-down traffic bollards, while once popular, is now discouraged.  Users inevitably leave the fold-down units in the lowered position, creating collision hazards for oncoming bikes.  Chains create the same problems when they’re left lying on pathways.  While no plan is perfect, one which situates rigid bollards 2’-3’ feet apart at bike lane entrances and along their routes offers the most benefits to cyclists.  Public safety planners should base bike path development on this approach unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise.