Are bike path bollards an unnecessary hazard?

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Bollard on Bellevue trail

Whenever I used to come across a bollard in a bike trail, I’d get the righteous feeling of ownership that this was my trail; cars cannot get in.

Now I worry that a bicyclist might hit the bollard and suffer an injury. Are bollards safe?

Not always. Experienced bicyclist Giuseppe Maino, 53, died from injuries he suffered when he struck a bollard on the Richland B&O trail in Bellville, Ohio, this week.

Maino was riding at the rear of a group of cyclists when he struck the center of three poles installed in the trail.

The Marion Star said the tragedy is causing local officials to reconsider the use of bollards. A park district director said there have been some falls and scrapes in the past, but nothing this serious.

California case

Another notable case involves Ed McLaughlin, a bicycle advocate from Chico, California, who crashed into a trail bollard on a group ride in 2007 and suffered a severe neck injury. It prompted the annual Tour de Ed that raises funds for injured cyclists in the Chico area.

I suppose the big question is whether bollards are actually necessary and, if so, how can they be made safer. As bike advocate Josh Putnam writes at Dark Bollards; Dangerous Bollards:

If we were discussing a roadway, no competent traffic engineer would consider placing unmarked telephone poles between the lanes with no additional clearance or warnings. The results would be too obvious. Yet some of these same traffic engineers will suggest placing bollards in the middle of bicycle trails with essentially no warning for the bicyclists.

According to the Marion Star, the bollard that Maino struck this week was the center of three that were set across the trail with no intersection nearby. That seems totally unnecessary.


Visibility is a major issue.

The bollard in the photo at top was placed at an entrance to a new trail in the Factoria area of Bellevue, Wash. The metal pole itself is painted a dark green, but reflective lane markings direct bicyclists around it.

Burke-Gilman bollard

These bollards at intersections on newly renovated section of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Forest Park are white with red strips, making them a little easier to see. They also have lane markings that direct bicyclists around them.

Lake Washington loop bollard

This bike trail bollard, above, on the Lake Washington bike loop between two sections of the Lake Washington Boulevard in Newcastle appears particularly dangerous, as it looms at the bottom of a hill. The only pavement warnings are the natural speed bumps created by tree roots that push up the pavement.

Another issue is whether the bollards are needed at all.

Last month, the Seattle Transportation Department removed 14 bollards along the Burke-Gilman Trail between NW 43rd Street and NW 36th Street to improve safety for bicyclists.

It’s obviously time to take a new look at bike path bollards and consider whether they’re necessary at every location, and if so, can they be made safer.

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  1. You know Gene, I was recently thinking the same thing…can’t we just loose these things. I had no idea that they have a specific name. Now when I bike by them, I’ll think “Damn Bollards!”

    However, as I was biking to West Seattle last week, I actually saw a guy drive up on to the West Seattle bike path on Harbor Island! Like he was somehow going to use the path as a short cut to get on to the Low Bridge. It was very odd and curious and made even more so by the appearance of five bike cops whom I suppose were out for a training ride because why else would five bike cops be on Harbor Island!

  2. Im writing this comment from a hospital bed in St. Louis,MO. Sunday 6/16 I hit a bollard on the MCT trail near Edwardsville, IL. Six broken ribs, punctured lung, 2 fractured vertebrae, cracked helmet, bike is toast, and I’m going home tomorrow 8 days later. The road I was protected from is a broken blacktop farm access road, never seen a vehicle on it.. Understandably I used to feel protected by these hazards. By the way, still was able to maneuver a vehicle around it to get me out. Thank God for protection, good medical care and healing,

      • Joe on September 10, 2017 at 9:38 pm
      • Reply

      I just did the same on a Madison County Transit trail west of Glen Carbon, IL. Another unpaved farm access road. Luckily I only had a few cuts/bruises. The bike was not so lucky. However the bollard escaped unscathed.

    • Francis de la Pena on November 26, 2012 at 7:54 am
    • Reply

    These bollards are a hazard, I just ran into a 5″ x 3′ bollard, and was catapulted 5′ into the air and onto the pavement. Luckily I was uninjured thanks to my helmet and the soft landing of my hydration pack that prevented any serious injuries. I was only bruised in the left thigh, but yeah they can be dangerous especially if they are not painted bright red, orange, or yellow. I also noticed some were painted green which is blending into the background of the forest.

    I really do not see the purpose of putting one up on small narrow bike paths, I understand the wide paths, but if the path is narrow a pole should not be installed on there. It is hard enough to navigate around a group of pedestrians.

    • Jim Ferry on September 19, 2017 at 6:04 am
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    It’s been several years since this thread appeared. I am wondering how many more accidents have occurred due to these bollards?

    I will be attending a funeral service this week for a friend who died on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. He had a heart attack, but emergency vehicles could not reach him due to the bollards.

    A few years ago I crashed into one in a state park where there is little or no vehicle traffic. My bicycle was spun around and I hit my head on the pavement before I knew what had happened. My helmet probably saved my life.

    • Carolyn on October 15, 2017 at 1:31 pm
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    Last week I hit a bollard on the Erie Canal Trail that was a 4×4 piece of pressure treated lumber. It was protecting access from a farm driveway. Fortunately I was going slowly and only jammed my toe and cracked a rib. Big efforts are being made to extend the trail to off-road locations – a good effort, but it appears to be at the expense of upgrades and maintenance.

    • Lisa Jennison on May 18, 2019 at 8:18 am
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    May 15, 2019 as an out of state tourist, I hit a steel bollard on the Skunk River Trail in Peoria Arizona. While on this unfamiliar trail. I made a quick maneuver to avoid a direct head on hit. Despite, I sustained cracked ribs, horrible cut on the inside of my mouth by my teeth. huge goose egg bruise on my forehead, cracked ribs, road rash to my nose lips and chin, and horrible bruises to both hands and legs. I am thankful I did not break my teeth as I hit the pavement. I am thankful my helmet avoided a cracked skull injury. I am certain had I hit this bollard directly, I could have sustained internal injuries and could have been killed. I am a very experienced rider.

    • Barbara Amodio on September 21, 2020 at 12:55 pm
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    We call out “Pole Jane” in honor of our friend who slammed into one and flipped over her handlebars causing a ride in the ambulance. She was riding the back of the pack and never saw it.

    • Richard Bellefeuille on September 6, 2021 at 4:01 pm
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    A week ago, I side swiped a bollard on the bike trail in Fairhaven, MA . I was lucky as the bike went over and i skidded on the asphalt. No broken bones. or gashes, but abrasions on my check ,arm, knee ,forearm and hand. Helmit was scratched on visor from asphalt, so I was glad I had properly taken the time to correctly fit it.
    Now I’m wondering why the bollard ? No street but a driveway, so over engineered ? Home owner said he had witnessed several other crashes and I probably wouldn’t be the last.

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