Bollards, Gates, and other Barriers
Photo of bollards on the Delaware and Hudson Rail Trail in Pawlet VT. Trail users created a new trail to get around the bollards.
Photo by Jon Kaplan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Thank you to information sources and reviewers: John Ciccarelli, Bicycle Solutions; Jakob Helmboldt, Virginia Department of Transportation; Richard Moeur, Arizona Department of Transportation; Mark Plotz, National Center for Bicycling and Walking and NCBW Forum; John Williams, Tracy-Williams Consulting; Trails for the Twenty-First Century, 2nd Edition, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy; Jennifer Toole, Toole Design Group; Jim Lazar, Olympia (WA) Safe Streets Campaign; Maggie O'Mara, Bicycle Design Reviewer, California Department of Transportation, John F. Cinatl, Associate Transportation Planner - Bike Facilities, California Department of Transportation.
Some trail managers install bollards, gates, or other barriers to restrict unauthorized use. Trail managers should question whether bollards, gates, fences, or other barriers are needed at all. For the purpose of the bullets below, "bollard" includes bollards, gates, fences, or any other barrier constructed or installed next to, within, or across a trail presumably to restrict unauthorized access.
- Even "properly" installed bollards constitute a serious and potentially fatal safety hazard to unwary trail users. In addition, no bollard layout that admits bicycles, tricycles, and bicycle trailers can exclude single-track motor vehicles such as motorcycles and mopeds. For these reasons, bollards should never be a default treatment, and should not be used unless there is a documented history of intrusion by unauthorized cars, trucks, or other unauthorized vehicles.
- A landscaped median may be an appropriate method to reduce the likelihood that somebody might think the shared use path is a public street or driveway. See "What kind of barrier will keep cars off a bike path?" by John Williams and Kathleen McLaughlin, originally published in Bicycle Forum (Issue 30, August 1992), now NCBW Forum. See Article.
- Bollards are often ineffective: a determined person is likely to go around or go through. This may result in additional maintenance costs for the trail, either to repair or replace the bollards, or to repair trail or landscaping damage where vehicles go around the bollards.
- Bollards are often a hazard to trail users, who can crash into them, possibly resulting in serious injury or death. Poorly installed bollards can lead to head-on collisions. Bollards are involved in "second user" crashes, where the first user hides the bollard until it is too late to avoid it, even if the first user has adequate sight distance. These crashes can produce serious or incapacitating injuries. This can happen to pedestrians as well as bicyclists or other higher speed users.
- Unjustified bollards can create liability exposure. Trail managers should consider whether or not they increase their liability if they install bollards, gates, fences, or other barriers.
- Bollards, gates, fences, or other barriers can slow access for emergency response.
If installed, bollard, gates, fences, or other barriers:
- Must not restrict access for people with disabilities (ABA, Rehabilitation Act, and ADA: cited above).
- Must be easily visible, especially in low light conditions. Section 9C.03 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) requires retroreflectorization of any obstruction in the traveled way of a shared-use path. This includes posts along the edge of a path (within a path's "shoulder"). In addition, MUTCD Figure 9C-2 defines a diamond-shaped marking that should be used around bollards or other obstructions within a path.
- Should have sufficient sight distance to allow users to adjust speed. This is especially important on paths that have traffic calming features such as curves or landscaping near the bollards. Insufficient sight distance increases the likelihood that bollards will be dangerous hazards.
- Should permit passage, without dismounting, for adult tricycles, bicycles towing trailers, and tandem bicycles. All users legally permitted to use the facility should be accommodated; failure to do so increases the likelihood that the bollards will be dangerous hazards.
According to Trails for the Twenty-First Century, 2nd Edition (April 2001), published by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy:
If you determine that a traffic barrier is necessary, ensure that barriers are well marked and visible to bicyclists, day or night... Bollards must be at least 3 feet tall and should be placed at least 10 feet from the intersection. This will allow trail users to cross the intersection before negotiating the barrier posts...
One bollard is generally sufficient to indicate that a path is not open to motorized vehicles. The post should be placed in the center of the trail tread. Where more than one post is necessary, a 5-foot spacing is used to permit passage of bicycle trailers, adult tricycles, and wheelchairs. Always use one or three bollards, never two. Two bollards, both placed in the paved portion of the trail, will channel trail users into the center of the trail, causing possible head-on collisions. Bollards should be designed to be removable or hinged to permit entrance by emergency and service vehicles... (Pages 85-86).
- Spacing between bollards should permit passage of bicycle trailers and adult tricycles without dismounting, and manual and motorized wheelchairs. A "5-foot spacing" means 5-foot gaps between bollards, not a 5-foot center-to-center placement.
- Bollards should be designed to be knock-down, removable, or hinged to permit entrance by emergency and service vehicles. A knocked-down bollard must be reinstalled or removed immediately to avoid having an additional safety hazard.
- Hardware installed in the ground to hold bollard or posts must be flush with the surface to avoid having an additional safety hazard.
- Bollards, gates, fences, or other barriers outside the trail tread (on each side) may be acceptable if there is sufficient clear trail tread to avoid head-on collisions and to ensure accessibility. But the purpose of the bollards, gates, fences, or other barriers should be questioned.
- Presentation: Bicycle Path Entry Control. (Ed Cox, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, City of Sacramento, CA and Maggie O'Mara, Senior Transportation Engineer, California Department of Transportation)
This presentation discusses methods to control entry to shared use paths. It considers issues related to bollards, gates, and other barriers. It looks at examples and discusses what works well and what doesn't.
Disclaimer: This presentation is provided in the interest of information exchange, and reflects the views of the authors. Providing this resource does not necessarily represent endorsement by the U.S. Department of Transportation.