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Are Pop-Up Bollards Practical?

Updated on May 21, 2013

In the UK—specifically Manchester, England—a new security measure has caused a lot of damage (and a lot of frustration) for drivers. Instead of simple stationary traffic barriers blocking out all unauthorized traffic, new pop-up bollards have shown up for bus paths. In theory, it makes sense to use these types of barriers—they retract into the ground to let busses through, then pop back up to keep normal traffic off of restricted busways. But what happens when people try to take advantage of them?

Some People Just Can’t Seem to Obey

When a bus approaches a series of pop-up traffic bollards, they lower into the ground to allow it through. As soon as the bus passes by, the bollards rise again. Because the rising motion isn’t exactly instantaneous, plenty of overzealous drivers attempt to drive through as fast as they can once the bus goes, sneaking past the barriers before they pop back up. Usually, this doesn’t work out. I’m not sure of the overall success rate, but the damage done to the cars that fail certainly doesn’t seem worth the attempt, especially judging by the Manchester footage I’ve seen.

Now, I’ve seen plenty of bollards here in America, but never anything quite like that, and it looks like a lot of drivers aren’t ready for them. I’ve certainly never seen drivers attempt to cheat a permanently standing bollard, but I can only imagine the cocky college students or the rushed businesspeople who may view retractable ones like the Manchester barriers as opportunities for a little delinquency.

Old Fashioned Might Be Just Fine

Bollard designs have changed. I mean, they’re obviously not as flimsy as they were before we had rust-preventing galvanization and other fabrication methods available to us today, but I think the bollards that might keep us the safest are ones that don’t necessarily have to go up and down. Alternatives like collapsible bollards give you the same freedom to come and go, but without the risk of unscrupulous drivers trying to rush through and gain access to a restricted zone.

While these rising and lowering posts could be a good idea, I'm certain that in America, most drivers would take a while to respect the amount of damage that comes when you don't obey them. With removable or collapsible barriers, you at least know that nobody can try sneaking past.

Developing Technology

It seems like pop-up bollards are relatively new in the UK now, because even fire trucks and other emergency vehicles have fallen victim to posts that rise at the wrong moment as they drive over. I think it might be best for the technology to improve before it makes it big here. In the meantime, I’m perfectly happy with the regular bollards protecting my business. I’m entirely sure that nobody will attempt to drive into my warehouse when my removable posts are stationed at the entrance, and I can still come and go as I please.

Even Cops Don’t Always Care

There was one story I read in which two police officers crashed their patrol car into two rising posts, which just happened in 2012. They did a number on the car and the officers were understandably embarrassed, proving that these bollards don’t mess around. While they were in an authorized emergency vehicle, that still didn’t stop the bollards from going up—I think it would’ve been a lot easier for them to have the ability to unlock a collapsible in order to get through, or at least to manually lower them from inside the car. At least that way it wouldn’t have been any kind of gamble when driving through.

Of course, for situations like this, collapsible bollards that you raise and lower by hand aren't necessarily practical. They necessitate getting out of your vehicle twice, which simply isn't realistic for high-traffic areas like busway entrances. However, there has to be a better way of managing the traffic—or at least managing the people that try to game the system. Emergency vehicles like the police car in 2012 should be able to access restricted roadways, but how?

Why Do People Keep Hitting Them?

So the pop-up traffic bollards in the UK demonstrate that even a retractable barrier has serious stopping power. Then why don't motorists respect them? The infamous Manchester bollards have a number of warning signs posted around them, yet many people think they'll be the ones to successfully sneak past—and are proven wrong. Do distracted drivers not realize what fate awaits them once the bus passes through? Or do they just not care? I have a sinking feeling that if we start installing barriers like these in the states, we'll prove that trying to beat the system isn't a uniquely British trait—and we'll have the smashed-up cars and embarrassed drivers to prove it.


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