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The role of bollards in allowing appropriate access while keeping trail users safe.


Bollards contribute to safety and security on the Sacramento River Trail

photo of trail

Sacramento River Trail in Redding, CA


Trailheads and Bollards

My wife and I landed in Redding, California from Nashville in mid-June to help celebrate my younger brother John’s and his wife Sally’s 50th wedding anniversary. I had promised a client of mine I would squeeze in several hours to take pictures of its bollards that were strategically installed at trailheads along Sac River and at Keswick Dam. John and I met with Terry Hanson (a Rotary buddy of Johns and an AT board member) to get the half dozen locations of the bollards. And then we were off in John’s oversized pickup truck (which I mention for its impending role in my picture-taking assignment).

Redding is alive with new and ongoing construction. A northern California city of one hundred thousand and gateway to a Mecca of skiing, upland bird hunting and seasonal steelhead trout fishing, hiking, backpacking and cycling. Our first stop required we first traverse on a narrow road through one of the construction sites, strewn with the usual evidences of work in progress—cement trucks and tractors, piles of lumber and construction stone, men scurrying to and fro their hardhats reflecting the early summer sun.

Organized confusion

We abruptly came to a halt. Three bollards in bright yellow signaled Stop! John’s pickup easily could have kept on going had he wanted to crash through. I got out and focused my new digital Canon. A girl’s voice--“Coming through”—for just a moment caught me off guard. In not more than ten seconds her cycle disappeared down the trail secluded amidst an urban forest. But not before I entered her into my camera’s memory stick.

A simple drama gradually unfolded as we went from one bollard location to another. John’s big truck stops alongside other cars lined up in parking spaces. On one side of this urban DMZ signaled by bollards were those in vehicles who would not intrude on the trail, and on the other side were those who peacefully moved toward us coming off the trail, and still others who were just starting their journey. Couples hand in hand, a family with a baby carriage, cyclists—young, geriatric and competitive, skate boarders, inline skaters, and wheelchairs, walkers and those on crutches. I caught all this for posterity’s sake. The camera’s memory stick was fast filling up. Like many times before, I was seeing what represented a clear distinction between the concepts of safety and security and how they played out in the peaceful world of trails opposed by the oft-threatening world of non-trails.

Ever since 9/11 no area of life has remained immune from discussions of safety and security. Conceptual confusion reigns: the terms oft are used interchangeably and even appear in the same sentence as if they were synonyms lending themselves to redundancy. In this safety/security world of concerns I have sought for generic definitions, which, once achieved, would be the basis for determining design issues. In words tied to my photo-taking mission, if I had a good clean definition of each trail safety and trail security, then choice of bollard design—the DMZ between the two--would be a no-brainer.

Safety on the trail exists when the trail is doing or providing what the trail was designed to do. Trail safety differs from safety in one’s home or automobile. Safety is a situation-specific steady state. In the real world, there are threats to situational steady states. A cyclist crashes and fractures a clavicle, an elderly jogger has a cardiac arrest, and an emergency medical team is alerted. An errant motorcycle threesome disrupts and threatens the peace, and the local sheriff is called by cell phone. Or worst: fire begins small but spreads quickly. All threaten the trail’s steady state. Safety is diminished.

Security is that which prevents threats and protects and returns safety’s steady state. Bollards are sentinels of security at trailheads. Medical, law enforcement, or fire personnel must enter the trail and mitigate threats to safety. The quicker and easier they can do this, the sooner safety (the steady state) is returned to the trail. The metrics of “quicker” and “easier” define bollard design and function. These are parameters of trail security!

As John and I traveled from one location to another I saw along the sides of city streets bollards designed in yesteryear. Some were solidly sunk permanently into concrete foundations. Along the side of a road or a trail entrance their permanence would not allow passage of emergency or maintenance vehicles, but vehicles could enter through the middle section. Other specimens of the past were removable, but only if one possessed brute strength.

The security bollards at Sac River’s trailheads were different. Some were easily removable but were secured by a padlock. The assumption behind this design was that all emergency and maintenance personnel had easy access to a key. And then there were bollards of a collapsible design. On one side near the top was a hexagonal nut that with a partial turn of a standardized water hydrant wrench would allow the bollard to lie flat. (This wrench is standard equipment for all emergency vehicles.) An added feature of this bollard is that, in more urgent circumstances, it could be forcibly collapsed by gentle pressure from the emergency vehicle’s bumper and then returned to an upright position once the emergency passed. These two, particularly the latter, are among a new breed of bollards.

Applied safety and security measures often are defined by existing codes, prominent among them the 2006 International Fire Code. Trail designers and trail- masters team with local fire marshals who are the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to administer the Code and make decisions (i.e., convert codes into standards) responsive to local conditions. These decisions dictate the choice from among different bollard designs that respond to local conditions of safety and security.

Charles G. Oakes, PhD, is a security consultant for Blue Ember Technologies, LLC. A detailed discussion of bollard designs is found at

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