What are Traffic Bollards and Barriers?

For commuters, the bollard may just resemble a post strategically placed in the street as a protective barrier, a temporary enclosure, or as a visual reference point for drivers.

But this traffic management tool has passed through an interesting evolution, one that started out as an implement of war used for another purpose.

Unusual Origins

History points out to the maritime origins of the traffic bollard. Centuries ago, the first bollards were old cannons buried halfway, muzzle down near a waterway. Unlike its present-day version, these bollards were used to securely anchor or tow ships to shore.

Ships and sea vessels also have their own maritime bollards fitted onto the deck. These structures basically function the same way as the bollards secured on the quayside.

At around the same time, wooden and even cast iron posts were also used on land to prevent carriages and foot traffic from encroaching into certain areas. The Amsterdammertje of the Netherlands is an example of an early form of the bollard.

These structures first appeared in the 19th century in the Netherlands as a distinctive barrier between the sidewalk and the street.

Traffic Bollards and Barriers

Unusual Design Elements

While the early version of the bollard co-opted the look and shape of a cannon, unique features were added into the design to make the structures stand out. The Amsterdammertje, as an example, has three distinctive St. Andrew’s crosses, an element of the country’s coat of arms, embedded on its cast iron surface.

Some of London’s traditional traffic bollards resemble art pieces. Posts bearing elements from Gothic and Victorian eras can still be found all over the city. Distinctive university colors and coat of arms have also been engraved on some of the posts.

Different Types

Modern day bollard posts are typically made from tough materials such as structural grade steel, concrete, and advanced polymers. Depending on the design and function, the posts are either embedded or placed below ground, firmly secured on a flat surface, or placed as a free-standing barrier.

There are bollards that are designed for flexibility such as the bell bollard which has a curved body that deflects an object upon impact.

Modern variations of the bell style have been introduced over the years such as the Martello bollard which follows the shape of the similarly-named Martello tower.

Others can be lowered at ground level to open a certain area to pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Still, there are bollards made from less sturdy materials which are used simply as a temporary barrier during car racing, marathons, and other sports events.

Expanded Functionality

Today, there are bollards that are constructed to provide temporary pedestrian seating. Others are designed to hold shrubs and plants and to create patches of greenery in the city.

There are also structures wired for grid-supported and even solar-powered recessed lighting, which are often placed near intersections or crosswalks.

On the more unusual side, some modern bollards have also been used as a structural canvas for local art as well as commercial product endorsements. An example would be sculptor Antony Gormley’s pieces and the perfume and cigar bollards in the streets of London.

From just a plain vertical post, the modern day bollard has expanded its functionality and aesthetic qualities. Some of these structures are now designed to stand out instead of fade into the urban landscape.