Fall 2001, p.14

DOT: Clear up confusion on Pedestrian Safety.

Taming a dangerous curve in France. Editor's note: no motorists died in the widening of this sidewalk.Bollards, the 3 food tall metal posts that stand sentry on sidewalks in front of every phone booth and fire hydrant in the city, are not coming to protect a pedestrian space near you any time soon. The humble bollard, innocuous in the US, ubiquitous in Europe, is keeping engineers at the NYC Department of Transportation awake at night. Their fear: speeding cars might crash into them. Elsewhere in the world, cities make standard practice of using bollards to narrow turning radii, reduce speeds, widen sidewalks, prevent parking on sidewalks, and secure areas from terrorists' truck bombs. In NYC, bollards are looked at as dangerous. According to the DOT, bollards present two main hazards. The first danger is known as the "projectile bollard effect," in which the bollard is struck, flies through the air and spears a passerby. The second danger is when a motorist is injured after crashing into a bollard. In the second scenario, no thought has been given by DOT to the safety of the pedestrians who would have been killed or injured by that crashing car. These perceived dangers contrast decades worth of data which support the use of bollards to make streets safer. Commissioner Weinshall needs to issue a clear policy on bollards based on best practice standards from decades of proven success in the UK, Germany, Holland, France, Canada, and Australia. Further, the DOT should encourage their use as an inexpensive and effective way to improve conditions for pedestrians.

The inconsistency in the DOT's use of bollards and the reasons they offer when they are not used are nonsensical. Even so, this lack of consistency has a very real effect on the design and safety of the pedestrian environment in New York City. In Times Square, a combined effort of temporary bollards, planters and paint were planned to test curb line changes on the corner of 42nd and Broadway. Then at the 11th hour, the project's engineers moved the planter off the corner where the new painted curb line is. They again cited their fear that injuries that would result if a speeding car (in Times Square?) hit it. Again, no consideration was given to the pedestrians that a crashing car would hit without the planter in place. Now, instead of a painted sidewalk extension, reinforced physically by highly visible planters, pedestrians wait alone on an imaginary sidewalk.

(left) Here, but not there. Planters and bollards like these in Herald Square make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. A few blocks away, in Times Square, engineers moved them to allow faster speeds for turning cars. (right) Bollards protect pedestrians by keeping cars off sidewalks.

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