Choosing Traffic Bollards To Protect Facilities

Facility management helps ensure parking lot safety by selecting the appropriate type of traffic bollards for a property's needs.

by Brad Done

Bollards are often overlooked but they can play a significant role in the safety and aesthetics of almost every organization’s facility. In a way, they are like the masked vigilantes of a superhero movie. They never ask for thanks or recognition; they silently protect the citizens and structures around them. That analogy might be a bit dramatic, but bollards really can save lives and protect property. The key is selecting the right type for the facility.

traffic bollards
Bollards create safe perimeters around areas in need of further security.

In its simplest form, a bollard is an unadorned metal post placed in front of buildings or other outdoor spaces to control the flow of traffic. They are normally spaced out to prevent typically sized vehicles from fitting through them, making them an essential component of safe perimeters and parking lots. Bollards are available in varying colors, sizes, and degrees of ornamentation and impact-resistance. A properly chosen bollard will blend with a building’s architecture, while providing an adequate level of impact-resistance to prevent property damage and protect pedestrians.

Normally an organization will select various types of traffic control bollard to perform these tasks on their property. Traffic bollards perform several functions: they can separate cars and pedestrians, clearly delineate where traffic is supposed to flow, visually aid traffic in areas with limited visibility, and enclose car-free zones.

Types Of Traffic Control Bollards

Not all traffic patterns are the same, and neither are all traffic control bollards. The type of bollard that should be selected depends on its primary purpose. Will the post be directing traffic in an area with changing traffic patterns, blocking off an area for an event, separating a bike lane, directing parking lot traffic, or doing something else entirely? Here are four of the most commonly used traffic bollards:

Steel Pipe Bollards

traffic bollards
Workers install a steel pipe bollard in concrete.

Steel pipe bollards are, by far, the most commonly used bollards in parking lots and around buildings. They are set in a concrete substrate and filled with concrete to provide impact resistance from vehicles bumping into them. Because of this, they are often used to guide traffic, and protect pedestrians and property from errant vehicles. Many manufacturers even certify the ability of their bollards to stop vehicles travelling at certain speeds. The designation these bollards receive is known as a K-rating.

Steel pipe bollards have a very simple appearance, but they can be painted or covered with a plastic post covers to increase visibility and improve their aesthetic value. To match a specific business’ aesthetic, stainless steel and ornamented iron covers are also available. Steel pipe bollards should be used in traffic applications where vehicle encroachment presents a real threat.

Removable Bollards

traffic bollards
Removable bollards act as a visual deterrent to forceful perimeter access.

Removable bollards are sturdy and look like permanent bollards, but they can be removed from a receiver in the ground to permit vehicle access when needed. Though they are excellent for providing visual cues to drivers, they do not provide an adequate level of impact resistance to stop a vehicle.

Removable bollards are useful in areas that see increased vehicle traffic during large-scale events, areas that may occasionally need to be designated as “car-free” due to a high volume of foot traffic, or in areas only authorized vehicles are permitted to enter.

Retractable Bollards

traffic bollards
Stainless steel retractable bollards guard a building’s front doors and can be quickly retracted into a concrete receiver below the ground, when needed.

Retractable bollards are closely related to removable bollards, but feature several distinct differences. They are more expensive than removable bollards, but can quickly and smoothly retract into a concrete receiver below the ground. When they are fully retracted, the receiver is covered and lies flush with the ground, preventing tripping accidents.

Though this bollard does not offer a high level of impact-resistance, it is useful in many of the same situations removable bollards are useful for. They also do not require additional storage space when not in use, making them convenient for areas that require to prevent traffic at certain times, like at security checkpoints. They are also an ideal choice for areas that need to be kept free of vehicles so that emergency vehicles may enter.

Flexible Bollards

traffic bollards
When struck by an errant vehicle, a flexible bollard can bend up to 90° and return to its original form afterwards.

Flexible traffic bollards are rigid enough to give the appearance of sturdy steel bollards, but are really composed of plastic polymer. They can bend up to 90° upon impact with a vehicle, and will return to their original form afterwards.

This type of bollard is particularly useful for marking parking lots or curves in the road where driver may turn their vehicles too sharply without a visual cue (such as a traffic bollard) to help direct them. Pedestrians and facility management alike can appreciate the clear boundaries flexible bollards establish, and drivers bump into them are relieved to have not damaged their vehicle.

Collapsible Bollards

traffic bollards
Because they can fold to become parallel with the ground, collapsible bollards are ideal for reserving parking spaces.

Collapsible or “fold-down” bollards are adjustable posts that appear like any other bollard, but can be collapsed or folded down to the ground to allow vehicles to pass over top. These are typically used in parking lots or parking garages where vehicle owners want to control access to their parking spots, or if they want to “lock” their vehicles into place in a parking spot as a theft deterrent. A simple collapsible bollard can be inexpensive, easy to install, and highly visible addition to a parking area.

Managing traffic and creating safe routes for pedestrians is paramount to the success of any organization. This process starts with assessing the primary needs of the lot to determine what type of traffic bollard will be the best fit. The right traffic bollard will provide an adequate level of impact resistance for the application and compliment the surrounding architecture. Remember that a customer or other visitor’s first impression of a business or organization comes from the parking lot and the site perimeter. Effectively controlling traffic and ensuring people’s safety all play into this. Advertise your concern for their safety by selecting the right traffic bollard for your facility and site.

Done is the vice president at Reliance Foundry Co Ltd., a British Columbia based provider of stock and custom-designed products for architectural site furnishings, traffic management and industrial applications. He has more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing bollards, commercial bike racks, and other outdoor metal products.