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Mooring bollards were the first type of bollard: the use of the term has since expanded. Here, Hudson River in September 2005.

A bollard is a short vertical post. Originally it meant a post used on a ship or a quay, principally for mooring. The word now also describes a variety of structures to control or direct road traffic, such as posts arranged in a line to obstruct the passage of motor vehicles.[1][2] The term can also be used to describe short, post-like light fixtures.


The term is probably related to bole, meaning a tree trunk.[2][3][4] The earliest citation given by the Oxford English Dictionary (referring to a maritime bollard) dates from 1844,[2] although a reference in the Caledonian Mercury in 1817 describes bollards as huge posts.[5] Previously, simpler terms such as "post" appear to have been used. The Norman-French name Boulard (still often found in Normandy) may be related.


East India House, Leadenhall Street, London: an engraving of 1766. Six bollards stand in front of the building.
The Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome, painted by Canaletto in 1742. Five bollards stand beyond the arch, apparently placed to protect it from vehicle damage.

From the 17th and 18th centuries, old cannon were often used as bollards on quaysides to help moor ships alongside. The cannon would be buried in the ground muzzle-first to approximately half or two-thirds of their length, leaving the breech (rear end) projecting above ground for attaching ropes. Such cannon can still occasionally be found. 19th-century bollards were purpose-made, but often inherited a very similar "cannon" shape.

Wooden posts were used for basic traffic management from at least the beginning of the 18th century. An early well-documented case is that of the "two oak-posts" set up next to the medieval Eleanor cross at Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, in 1721, at the expense of the Society of Antiquaries of London, "to secure Waltham Cross from injury by Carriages".[6] Similar posts can be seen in many historic paintings and engravings.

In the Netherlands, the Amsterdammertjes of Amsterdam were first erected in the 19th century. They became popular symbols of the city, but they are now gradually being removed and replaced with elevated sidewalks.


Maritime bollards

Merwede-Canal, Utrecht, Netherlands features bollards made from cannon

In the maritime contexts in which the term originates, a bollard is either a wooden or iron post found as a deck-fitting on a ship or boat, and used to secure ropes for towing, mooring and other purposes; or its counterpart on land, a short wooden, iron or stone post on a quayside to which craft can be moored. The Sailor's Word-Book of 1867 defines a bollard in a more specific context as "a thick piece of wood on the head of a whale-boat, round which the harpooner gives the line a turn, in order to veer it steadily, and check the animal's velocity".[2]

Mooring bollards are seldom exactly cylindrical, but typically have a larger diameter near the top to discourage mooring warps (docklines) from coming loose. Single bollards sometimes include a cross rod to allow the mooring lines to be bent into a figure eight. Small mushroom-bollards are found on lock approaches for advancing boats waiting for lock access.

A conventional measure of the pulling or towing power of a watercraft is known as bollard pull, and is defined as the force exerted by a vessel under full power on a shore-mounted bollard through a tow-line.

Traffic bollards

A street bollard in City of London colours

According to the Traffic Calming Organization, bollards can be used, either to control traffic intake size by limiting movements, or to control traffic speed by narrowing the available space.[7] Israel's Transportation Research Institute found that putting bollards at highway exits to control traffic also reduced accidents.[8]

Permanent bollards intended for traffic-control purposes may be mounted near enough to each other that they block ordinary cars, for instance, but spaced widely enough to permit special-purpose vehicles and bicycles to pass through. Bollards may also be used to enclose car-free zones. Bollards and other street furniture are used to control overspill parking onto sidewalks and verges.[9]

Bollards can be temporary and portable, as this traffic control bollard separating the road from the worksite.

Tall (1.15 meter/4 foot) slim (10 cm/4 inch) fluorescent red or orange plastic bollards with reflective tape and removable heavy rubber bases are frequently used in road traffic control where traffic cones would be inappropriate due to their width and ease of movement. Also referred to as "delineators", the bases are usually made from recycled rubber, and can be easily glued to the road surface to resist movement following minor impacts from passing traffic. The term "T-top bollards" refers to the T-bar moulded into the top for tying tape. Bollards are regarded as an economical and safe delineation system for motorways and busy arterial roads; and, in conjunction with plastic tape, for pedestrian control.

Traffic bollards used in the US are very similar to devices found throughout the UK, with the following exceptions:

  • The traffic bollard shell displays the MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices) "Keep Right" symbol (R4-7). In addition, the traffic bollard also has a yellow diamond below the "Keep Right" symbol instead of a yellow shield.
  • Unlike many existing traffic bollards found in the UK, most new modern traffic bollards installed along roadways today are made of materials that make them completely collapsible. When struck by a vehicle at low or high speed, the traffic bollard shell reverts to its original position with minimal to no damage to the unit.[10]

Illuminated bollards

Internally illuminated traffic bollards have been in existence throughout the United Kingdom since the 1930s, although the term "bollard" only seems to have been in common use since the late 1940s.[2] An illuminated bollard has a recessed base light unit in the foundation which illuminates the traffic bollard from all angles.[11] The main components are housed below the surface of the improvement (typically a concrete surface). Therefore, if a vehicle strikes the traffic bollard, the units below the surface are not damaged.

Internally illuminated traffic bollards direct vehicles to the appropriate side of an island in the United Kingdom.

They are primarily used at roundabout intersections within the splitter islands (a raised or painted area on the approach of a roundabout used to separate entering from exiting traffic, deflect and slow entering traffic, and provide a stopping place for pedestrians crossing the road in two stages)[12] and at the ends of pedestrian refuge islands, typically located at mid-block pedestrian crosswalks. Illuminated bollards are also used in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

Illuminated bollards are also used to supplement street signs and street lighting to provide a visual cue to approaching drivers that an obstacle exists ahead during hours of darkness and during periods of low visibility:[13][14] (fog, rain, snow, haze, etc.) and to indicate that braking may be required.

Reflective bollards may also be used; they need no power or maintenance, and can be built to recover to their normal position after being struck.[15]

Bell bollards

A bell bollard is especially useful to deflect heavy vehicles.

A bell bollard is a style of bollard designed to deflect vehicle tires. The wheel mounts the lower part of the bollard and is deflected by its increasing slope. Such bollards are effective against heavy goods vehicles that may damage or destroy conventional bollards or other types of street furniture.[16] A variant on the bell bollard is the "Martello bollard", its sloped shape inspired by the profile of historic Martello towers.[17]

Removable bollards

Bollards may be hinged at ground level, allowing them to be folded flat to permit vehicles to drive over them. In such cases they are generally fitted with padlocks at the base, to prevent being lowered without proper authorization.

Rising bollards can be retracted into the roadway to allow traffic to pass, or deployed to stop it.

Removable bollards may be fitted into a permanent metal ground socket, from which they can be removed entirely to allow traffic to pass. A polypropylene ground socket is also available that protects the paving and foundations from damage when the bollard is struck. This design uses a self-locking taper to enable bollards to be easily removed and relocated.

Retractable or "rising" bollards can be lowered entirely below the road surface (generally using an electric or hydraulic mechanism) to enable traffic to pass, or raised to block traffic. Rising bollards are used to secure sensitive areas from attack, or to enforce traffic rules that are time related, or to restrict access to particular classes of traffic.

Manually retractable bollards (lowered by a key mechanism) are found useful in some cases since they do not require retrofitting into existing landscapes, or any electrical hookups or hydraulic systems.[18]

The term "robotic bollards" has been applied to traffic barricades capable of moving themselves into position on a roadway.[19]

Self-righting or self-recovering bollards can take a nudge from a vehicle and return to the upright position without causing damage to the bollard or vehicle. They are popular in car park buildings and other areas of high vehicle usage.[20]

Flexible bollards

Flexible bollards are bollards designed to bend when struck by vehicles. They are typically made from synthetic plastic or rubber that is stiff on its own, but pliable under the weight of a car or truck. When struck, flexible bollards typically bend 90 degrees to ground—avoiding damage to vehicles and surrounding surfaces—and return to their original, upright position. While flexible bollards do not provide physical protection from vehicles, they offer clear visual guidance for drivers.

Racing bollards

Some forms of motorsport use removable, high-visibility bollards on road courses and street courses to mark the apex of certain corners. They are used to deter cutting a corner too tightly and violating track limits: in most racing series, drivers may incur a penalty for colliding with or driving inside these bollards.

Racing bollards are very lightweight and built to break off at the base when hit so as to not damage the vehicle; this feature of bollards makes them favored over "sausage kerbs"—also used to prevent cutting corners—which are elevated rigid structures that run along the inside of a turn. In contrast to bollards, sausage kerbs are much more unforgiving, and vehicles that hit them can be severely damaged or launched airborne upon contact.

Protective bollards

Bollards are used throughout heavy industry and in commercial building management to protect assets. They usually consist of a simple steel post either anchored to concrete, cored into a hard surface, buried in the ground or secured on a self-locking taper or impact recovery system to protect the surrounding foundations when a bollard is struck.

These bollards protect utilities, electronics, machinery, buildings, or pedestrians from accidental collisions by vehicles, including passenger vehicles, transport trucking, and fork lifts. As collisions can cause damage to vehicles, operators, or the bollards themselves, new bollards have been developed that absorb some of the impact energy, lessening the violence of the collision. Some are made of forgiving plastics while others are made of steel but fitted with an elastomer to absorb the impact energy.[21]

Security bollard in front of a shop doorway, placed to deter ram-raiders

Bollards are widely used to contribute to safety and security. The American Bar Association (ABA) states that bollards are used to contribute to homeland security.[22] The NIBS’s site—the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG)—recommends in its Design Guidance that open spaces surrounding and contiguous to buildings be included as integral parts of a security design.[23]

There are two main kinds of security-related bollard:

  • non crash-resistant bollards
  • crash- and attack-resistant bollards, a hardened barrier systems used to protect military, governmental and other buildings or compounds of higher security levels.[24] They are often used by retailers to prevent "Smash and Grab" burglary. Large concrete planters are a decorative alternative to traditional bollards.

According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, non crash-resistant bollards are "perceived impediments to access" and address the actions of two groups.

  • Law-abiding persons who comply with civil prescriptions of behavior as defined by the manner in which bollards are put to use;
  • Potentially threatening and disruptive persons for whom bollard applications are proscriptive by announcing their behavior is anticipated, and that additional levels of security await them.[25]

Rising bollards are increasingly common around the world to hinder vehicle-based terrorist actions from achieving close proximity to buildings, and are also used to prevent terrorist vehicle ramming attacks such as in the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack. They are also useful in mixed-use public spaces, which support both pedestrian use and emergency or service vehicle use. These bollards are usually priced between $11,000 to $100,000 depending on their ability to resist ramming vehicles, based on speed. The most expensive bollards can stop vehicles at speeds of about 50 mph (80 km/h).

Bollard sleeves in various alloys or finishes are designed to cover security bollards to enhance their visual attractiveness.[26]

Bollard lights

Bollard lights are a type of architectural outdoor lighting fixture comprising short, upright ground-mounted units, typically giving off light from the top or the sides, and used to illuminate walkways, steps or pathways.

Solar bollards store energy during daylight hours in order to illuminate during night. They use either a photocell or algorithms that determine whether the solar cells are receiving light to determine when to illuminate.

Other applications

The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF), managed by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), cited three dozen applications of bollards.[27][28] The following list of open areas is encompassed by the ABA, NCEF and WBDG recommendations:[citation needed]

Dragon's teeth

Large concrete structures called dragon's teeth were invented during World War II to slow down, stop or channel enemy tanks.

In fire emergencies

According to the International Fire Code (IFC-2009) and the National Fire Protection Association Fire Code 1 (NFPA-1) all new buildings or renovated buildings must have fire access roadways to accommodate fire apparatus and crews and other first responders. Thus the choice of bollard styles must apply to the NFPA’s Code 1710. Bollards are now designed in terms of how long it takes to remove or collapse them to allow first responders entry to the access roadway.[29][30][31]

Architectural design functions

Listed below are the building design objectives and requirements under fire or security related instances on campuses and their relationship to the use of bollards according to the Association of Higher Education Facilities.[32]

  • Accessible: fire lane bollards will accommodate persons using wheelchairs
  • Aesthetics: the fire lane and its bollard style complements surrounding landscape design
  • Cost-Effective: fire lane system life cycle costing
  • Functional/Operational: Building architect determines if entrances to building envelope can accommodate first responders or whether entrances require retrofitting, and authority having jurisdiction and first responders determine if the fire lane can readily be accessed through the bollards under emergency conditions
  • Historic Preservation: City planner address the special needs in historic districts and of historic buildings to accommodate fire lanes and bollards.
  • Productive: The HR officer comments on felt security of those working in the protected building, and all first responders pass on their ability to perform under fire mitigation conditions
  • Secure/Safe: Input by building safety or security officer and representative first responders to assure hallways and stairwells can accommodate first responders and that the fire lane is free of all obstructions 24/7
  • Sustainable: Landscape architect and surveyor comment on long term sustainability of area impacted by fire lane and use by first responders.
Decorated mushroom bollard by the river Scheldt in Antwerp, Belgium
Figurative bollard sculptures in Geelong, Victoria
Ex libris bollard outside Cambridge University Library, by Harry Gray


In Geelong, Victoria, Australia, decorative bollards, sculpted and painted by Jan Mitchell, are placed around the city to enhance the landscape as a form of outdoor public sculpture. Usually they are made of timber, minimally modified from the traditionally cylindrical, wooden, maritime bollard shape, but brightly painted to resemble human figures. Such figures – which may be historical or contemporary, particular or generic – are sited singly or in clusters along the waterfront and in other areas where people gather. Decorative bollards have become a well-known feature of the city of Geelong and reflect its history as a major Australian port.[33]

In Antwerp, Belgium, artist Eddy Gabriel transformed a bollard to look like a toadstool in 1993. This example was followed massively, turning the quayside of the river Scheldt into a street art gallery.[34]

In Norwich, England, a set of 21 bollards was installed in 2008 in the Lanes area north of City Hall, designed by artist Oliver Creed and commissioned by the City Council as part of a regeneration programme.[35] They are coloured "madder" red, in reference to the red dye extracted from the madder plant and used for dying cloth, one of the city's major industries during the 16th century; and they bear bronze finials also alluding to local history. 10 of these depict the madder plant, while the other 11 have unique designs, usually relevant to the specific location in which the bollard is placed, including a scene of sheep-shearing, a Green Man, a swan's head in Swan Lane, and so on.[36]

On the forecourt of Cambridge University Library, England, a line of 14 bronze bollards made to resemble piles of books was installed in 2009. The work was created by sculptor Harry Gray, and is entitled "Ex Libris". The ten outer bollards are static, but the "books" making up the four central bollards can be swivelled, and the lettering on their spines aligned to form the Latin phrase Ex Libris ("from/out of the books"), commonly used on bookplates.[37][38][39]

Many other towns, such as Winchester, England and Pristina, Kosovo, have painted ordinary bollards in unusual decorative patterns. See the "External links" section for pointers to Wikimedia Commons for examples.


See also


  1. Chris Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme, Thorndike Press, 2006 (ISBN 0-7862-8517-6)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "bollard, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993
  4. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Caledonian Mercury. 19 July 1817. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Boulting, Nikolaus (1976). "The law's delays: conservationist legislation in the British Isles". In Fawcett, Jane. The Future of the Past: attitudes to conservation, 1174–1974. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 13. ISBN 0-8230-7184-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Definition —". Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Driver behaviour and accident records at unsignalized urban intersections. Abishai Polusa, Department of Civil Engineering & Transportation Research Institute, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel. June 1984. Available online 4 July 2002.
  9. "Pavement parking". Department for Transport. Retrieved 2009-07-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Striking a Bollard". Archived from the original on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Simmonsigns, Simbol Product Specifications, 2006
  12. U.S. Department of Transportation: "Roundabouts:An Informational Guide", FHWA-RD-00-067, 2000
  13. "Road Traffic Signs and Internally Illuminated Bollards. Specification for Internally Illuminated Bollards", British Standards Institution, 1980
  14. Philip Weber, Scott Ritchie: "Internationally Recognized Roundabout Signs", Paper for the Transportation Research Board National Roundabout Conference, 2005
  15. "Surrey County Council – Reflective bollards on traffic islands". Archived from the original on 30 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Bell Bollard". Furnitubes International. Retrieved 18 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Chessell, Shawn. "Martello Bollards: A New Line of Defense". Retrieved 24 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Urban Park Bollard". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Robotic Bollards to Take Control". BBC News. 28 April 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Reboundable bollard With Fixings". Bollard Shop. Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Oakes, Charles. "PhD". Blue Ember Technologies, LLC. Retrieved 3 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Ernest B. Abbott and Otto J. Hetzel, "Homeland Security Begins at Home: Local Planning and Regulatory Review to Improve Security", in Rufus Calhoun Young, Jr. and Dwight H. Merriam, A Legal Guide to Homeland Security and Emergency Management for State and Local Governments, American Bar Association, 2006
  23. "Space Types | Whole Building Design Guide". Retrieved 2012-06-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Security for Building Occupants and Assets, Whole Building Design Guide, December 14, 2010.
  25. Oakes, Charles G. "The Bollard: Non-Crash and Non-Attack-Resistant Models | Whole Building Design Guide". Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Bollards stainless pipe fabrication". Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "NCEF Assessment Guide : Outdoor Athletic Facilities and Playgrounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "NCEF Assessment Guide : School Grounds and Site Access Control" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Oakes, Charles G. "Bollard design for trails and fire protection". Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Bollards, NYC" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Transportation Alternatives: Rethinking Bollards–How Bollards Can Save Lives, Prevent Injuries and Relieve Traffic Congestion in New York City. July 2007
  32. Charles G. Oakes, Whole Building Design Objectives for Campus Safety and Security: A Systems Dynamics Approach, Facilities Manager, July/August, 2010, pp 21-26
  33. "Geelong Bollards". Retrieved 2013-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. witzenstein (2007-07-24). "Witzenstein: Who told you not to believe in fairytales?". Retrieved 2012-06-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Cocke, Richard (2013). Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk. Public Sculpture of Britain. 16. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. pp. 64–5. ISBN 978-1-84631-712-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Reynolds, Leo. "Norwich Bollards: full set of photos of bollard finials". flickr. Retrieved 15 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Cambridge University Library Forecourt. Cambridge. 2009". Harry Gray. Retrieved 29 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Beard, Mary (11 September 2009). "A Don's Life: Is it a bollard? Is it a sculpture? Is it a book?". TLS: The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 29 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Greer, Germaine (4 January 2010). "My favourite library is being transformed into a beacon of naffness". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links