Obstacles in the middle of a path are a hazard for bike riders. Bollards are a prime example.
Bicycle Network Victoria does not support the use of bollards or gates at entrances to cycling and shared paths.
Too many people have been seriously injured by these hazards.
What’s the problem?
Obstacles in the middle of a path are a hazard for bike riders - they reduce the usable path width; are not expected by riders; and are hard to see when riding behind someone else.
Of particular concern are low poles, rails or bollards in the middle of paths (often coloured hard-to-see grey or green) which have caused many serious crashes with bike riders hitting them. A rider was made a quadriplegic as a result of striking the bars pictured at right and subsequently made a successful claim against the Council. The insurer asked the Council to formulate a risk management strategy across their path network. These rails have since been removed.
"Neck breakers" - A person riding a bike hit these barriers at night and broke their neck.
What are the risks?
If objects are placed in the middle of a path, riders could:
hit the objects and crash, often suddenly and over the front of the bike;
snag their pedals or handlebars on the object and crash;
swerve to avoid the object and crash;
be forced into the travel path of another path user and collide with them; or
be unable to negotiate the resulting two narrow openings remaining either side of the obstacle. This is especially true for those with child trailers or three wheeled bikes (recumbent bikes and tricycles).
What is the solution?
Avoid placing objects in the middle of the path. Reconsider the need for any such obstacle given that most represent a hazard or hindrance to cyclists. Often they are ineffective at restricting or stopping motor vehicle access, which is the stated reason for installation in many cases. Monitoring and policing can be used to enforce the restrictions and stop offenders (often repeat offenders). Path users require adequate notice of an upcoming road crossing. This can usually be safely provided with good design (clear sight lines), signage (road crossing ahead) and linemarking (centre line, stop line) without resorting to any obstacles to slow cyclists. A hand rail (see details at bottom of page) to the left side of the path shows where to stop and wait for traffic if required.
If a “path terminal device” is needed to restrict access to a path or structure (such as a bridge) which would be damaged by motor vehicles, avoid using obstacles in the middle of the path or use a safe and clearly marked device. Examples include holding rails either side of the path and gentle curves and visual cues (for example, pavement marking or signage) that indicate the lack of motor vehicle access.
Preventing motor bike access can be a problem on shared paths, especially in outer suburbs and regional areas. A barrier that prevents motor cycle access will usually block access by other, legitimate users of the path, including those in wheelchairs or people riding tandems or with trailers for children. A good summary of the problem is provided in the cycle design guide from the County of Nottinghamshire (UK).
If you must use a centrally placed obstacle (and have explored all other possibilities) then it must be made as safe as possible. Most importantly it must be clearly visible to approaching cyclists. It must be high enough to be visible from behind another cyclist (at least 1.0m high but preferably 1.8m) and wide enough to not be an injury hazard (at least 100mm diameter, preferably 300mm). A painted unbroken white line with tactile markings must lead cyclists around the obstacle and it must be painted white or yellow and wrapped with reflective tape.
What do the guidelines say?
The new Guide to Road Design Part 6A: Pedestrian and Cyclist Paths clearly states (and restates) that bollards and other obstacles should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. The guide warns that “path terminal treatments” may be a hazard to cyclists and to avoid using them unless there is clear evidence of undesirable motor vehicle access:
"Where installed, terminal treatments should be designed and installed in such a way that they serve their intended purpose and do not cause an unacceptable hazard to cyclists. Cyclists must be able to:
negotiate path entrances with ease
concentrate on other traffic, pedestrians, pavements and ramps
not be distracted by overly restrictive barriers
In most instances it is unnecessary to use restrictive devices to slow cyclists down before they cross a road. However, it is important that cyclists travelling along off-road paths are provided with sufficient visual and/or physical cues to advise them that they are approaching a road crossing. Cyclists will then be able to assess the situation and slow to an appropriate speed or stop if necessary."
The guide provides an extensive list of restrictions to the designs of any path terminal devices in order to make them safe. Chief amongst these is to make the obstacles as clear as possible by painting them white or yellow and fitting them with reflective tape, and preceding them with signs and tactile linemarking. See figures below. They also provide some examples of path terminal device designs that might be used where necessary.
What does Bicycle Network Victoria say about the guidelines?
Bicycle Network Victoria supports the guide's clear warning against using bollards and other middle of path obstacles and using or retaining them only when absolutely necessary. In nearly all cases there is a safer alternative. The guide is also correct in warning on the potential hazard of such devices. The guide also provides examples of devices that may be used when necessary. Bicycle Network Victoria does not support some of these designs as there are safer, more effective and less expensive options available. In many cases, middle of the path devices have been installed when the potential risk of motor vehicle access to the path has been given priority over the overall safety of cyclists and other path users. In many cases the devices have been unnecessary or ineffective as there has not been the risk of motor vehicle access or motor vehicles have bypassed the obstacle anyway (see photo example below). The new guide is clearer on this than the old guidelines (Part 14, published in 1999 was superseded by Part 6A in 2009)
Where the path has been divided by a centre of path obstacle, Austroads suggests a minimum 1.4m wide opening for cyclists either side with support for up to 1.6m. Given that most motor vehicles are at least 1.8m wide and most drivers do not want to risk scratching their car’s paint or risk getting stuck, a 1.8m or even 2.0m opening width, along with signage and other visual cues, is likely to be effective at stopping all but the most determined or foolhardy drivers from entering the path. If access for emergency or maintenance vehicles is required one of the rails can be installed so it can be unlocked and moved.
The guide give examples of path offset or staggered fence treatments which might be used if an upcoming hazard requires cyclists to slow down. Again, these might be considered as compromises to try and overcome poor path design and sighting. The best solution is to design the path in the right location so everyone can see each other and it is clear who has priority and where people should stop, wait and give way until safe to cross. These are basic principles of good design.
The VicRoads Cyclenotes No. 17 Terminal Treatments for Off Road Paths is also clear on not using obstacles and curves to try and slow cyclists unless absolutely necessary. They go on, however, to recommend a preferred treatment (figure 8) for a bollard where the bollard is not high enough and which lacks tactile linemarking leading around the bollard.
Any examples, good and bad?
Capital City Trail at Royal Park Station (Melways map 29, E11). This bollard prevents car access from one road to another and also spill over from a busy (zoo) carpark onto parkland. The central bollard is high (with pole & sign), wide, visible and line-marked. The resulting gaps are wide enough for bike trailers or tricycles but too narrow for motor vehicles. A good example of what to do if you have to put something in the middle of the path. In this photo, a bollard has been removed on the left to allow the temporary access of a mower (on road in background).
This bollard on the Plenty River Trail has a few things right but is still a hazard. There is linemarking around the bollard, it is painted yellow and has a reflector. But it is still too short, the side bollards are not painted fully and vehicles can still go around (you can see the gap to the left).
Here the bollard has been installed to prevent access to a bridge by motor vehicles. But it is easily bypassed to the left or right. The paint is fading and it has limited reflective tape. Its one remaining property is as a hazard to bike riders.
Koonung Creek path alongside the freeway. The poles are too low (less than 1m high), not painted or line-marked and in the middle of the travel path of riders. There is no linemarking to guide bike riders around the poles.
Bad and Good
Perhaps the worst of the lot on the Anniversary Trail south of High St. The bollard was low, not painted and off centre. There was no linemarking around the bollard. This was a clear hazard, especially for people riding at night. A rider was injured at this location.
The bollard has since been removed and the path re-laid with red paint to make the path more visible (at right).
A bollard in Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy (Melways map ref 2C, C1). It is painted white but that's about all. It serves no purpose as it is easily bypassed. From our point of view it is a hazard and little else. It has since been removed and the path upgraded.
This bollard on the Upfield Path in Coburg has been installed to prevent motor vehicle access even though there is a parallel road 40m to the east. The bollard has reflective tape but is not painted so would be hard to see without lighting. It is unlikely that motor vehicle would use this path and there are not structures to damage if they did. The bollard could be removed and safety improved at no cost.
Gates across paths:
Gates across paths can be especially dangerous as they are often low and hard to see, especially at night. The danger is that a cyclist does not see the fence, hits it and goes over the handlebars, risking neck or back injury.
The gate above at left has been newly installed at the entrance to a path. Gaps have been left on both sides to allow bike riders to bypass the gate but they are not clearly linemarked. The gate itself was painted dark green which is next to invisible in the dark. It should have been painted white with reflective tape and reflective signage on the gate itself (to increase the visible area). After notification of the hazard the gate has since been painted white (picture at right) and hopefully will be fitted with hazard signs.
The same applies to the gate pictured at right which is even less visible and unexpected as the path continues on both sides of the gate. In both examples the vertical poles on either side of the bypasses need to be painted white and wrapped with reflective tape.
Bicycle Network Victoria encourages riders to dob in a bollard to their local council, preferably with a photo and Melway reference with a copy to Bicycle Network Victoria. See 'Get it fixed'.
Bicycle Network Victoria has in a number of cases provided supporting evidence for legal representatives of riders who are pursuing damages for injuries sustained from hitting bollards.