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What is a Bollard?

Updated on January 12, 2015
Bollards at Oriole Park
Bollards at Oriole Park | Source

At its simplest, a bollard is a short post tall enough to be seen by drivers through vehicle windshields, and by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Bollard was originally a maritime term for metal posts affixed to wharves and docks to moor boats. These marine bollards are still widely used and recognized; bollards are the favored way to attach boats in locks because they can be designed to rise and fall with water levels, rather than repeatedly moving moorings to series of fixed points.

Historians say land bollards were first used in the Roman Empire as milestone markers, to tether horses and as horse troughs constructed of wood or stone. Wide use of manufactured cast iron bollards developed in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, beginning around 1800 to separate sidewalks from streets. Streets didn't have curbs, so it was easy for carriages and later automobiles to stray onto pedestrian sidewalks. Today, decorative and functional bollards are everyday sights around our supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, shops and stadiums. You will often see various styles of bollards; they tell us which direction to travel in, they protect us from crime, they tell us where we can and cannot park, they add aesthetic features to our offices, they mark walkways and pathways, they sometimes even give us somewhere to sit beside and eat our lunch.

Bollards Installed at Fenway Park

How are Bollards Installed?

Bollards can be easy to install and often come with several distinct mounting methods.

There are three basic types of bollard mountings: fixed, removable, and operable (retractable).

Fixed bollards can be mounted onto existing concrete, or installed into new foundations. Fixed installations can be broken into two sub-categories;

  • Stand-alone – Manufactured bollards are frequently designed with their own mounting systems. Standalone mountings can be as non-invasive as drilling into existing concrete and anchoring with epoxy or concrete inserts. Such surface-mounted bollards can be used for purely aesthetic installations; they can provide substantial visual deterrence and direction, albeit with only minimal impact resistance.
  • Security – Bollards designed to protect against impact are usually embedded in concrete several feet deep, if site conditions permit. Engineering of the mounting depends on design threat, soil conditions and other site-specific factors. Strip footings that mount several bollards provide better resistance, spreading the impact load over a wider area. For sites where deep excavation is not desirable or possible (e.g. an urban location with a basement or subway beneath the pavement), bollards made with shallow-depth installation systems are available for both individual posts and groups of bollards. In general, the shallower the mounting, the broader it must be to resist impact loading. Choosing the correct model, material and installation method is crucial to the success of your traffic guidance plan, especially when security concerns are taken into account. Learn why bollards play an essential role in addressing concerns over public safety.

Many bollards can also act as covers to provide decorative enhancements over top of utilitarian security (pipe) bollards.

Removable Mounting
Removable Mounting | Source

A removable bollard typically has a permanently installed mount or receiver below grade – with the receiver’s top being flush with the pavement. The mating bollard can be manually lifted out of the mount to allow access. This system is intended for locations where the change of access is occasionally needed.

Retractable bollards manually telescope down below pavement level, and are intended for applications where frequent or quick lowering or collapsing of the bollard post is necessary (i.e. emergency access). Retractable bollards consist of a permanently installed receiver below grade, with a top that is flush with the pavement. These collapsible bollard posts can be manually raised up from the receiver to allow access. Material selection for retractable bollards can make all the difference in ensuring a successful retractable bollard installation.

Manufacturers are often introducing new types of bollards into the market.Flexible and breakaway bollards are two types of bollards that present unique installation and use options. Flexible bollards bend, and breakaway bollards are fold-downs equipped with a special pin that causes them to fold to ground level when impacted by a vehicle. First responders sometimes insist on one of these kinds of bollards at any entrance they may need to access in an emergency because it doesn’t take precious time for them to deal with bollards. Flexible bollards are newer to North American markets, so local fire departments may not have evaluated them yet. A supplier can provide you with the specs and technical information a fire official will need to do so. They have one or two advantages over breakaway bollards:

  1. Breakaway bollards usually require a new shear pin to be restored to upright, so owners need to have extra pins on hand at all times, plus personnel who can restore their upright position as soon as possible after an emergency, while flexible bollards restore themselves to an upright position.
  2. Breakaway bollards are usually metal and may cause minor damage to emergency vehicles.

Self-Righting bollards are usually metal, and are designed to bend as far as 45 degrees and then right themselves if a load is removed – but will collapse if a load or impact continues. As these are metal that can cause more damage to vehicles than flexible bollards. Self-righting bollards are used overseas, and are not yet available in North

Snowy bollards at St. Mary's University
Snowy bollards at St. Mary's University | Source

Walk Green, Build Green, Bike Green, Live Green

Bollards and our Environment

Our sustainable bollard products emphasize steel, cast (ductile) iron, stainless steel, aluminum and other materials that offer a high-recycled content and 100% recyclability. Scrap metal, like old kitchen appliances, such as ovens, are reused for their metal parts, which are then melted and reformed into bollards. Many of Reliance Foundry’s bollards are powder coated prior to shipping, a process that provides a high performance coating which is relatively hard, abrasion resistant, and tough. When powder coated items are installed without damage and maintained regularly, they will enjoy a long service life. The correctly applied coating, although not metallurgically bonded to the metal bollard, will not crack, chip or peel as with conventional paint films – thereby reducing the need for repair. Reliance Foundry’s bollards are designed and engineered to live long, useful lives in outdoor spaces without the use of harmful cleaning chemicals to maintain the finish.

Bollard Industry Related Internet Links

The following links (in no particular order) contain the best the internet has to offer in bollards, landscaping, architecture, building products, construction, design and castings.

The Construction Specifications Institute

The mission of CSI is to advance building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance


The American Institute of Architects

AEC Daily

One of the largest providers of free continuing education for architects, engineers, contractors, specifiers, and other construction professionals.

MacRAE's Blue Book

Searchable on-line directory of US and Canadian industrial suppliers with more than 1 million product listings. The Original Industrial Directory Since 1893.


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