Do you remember that bright yellow pole that dinged your door last summer? Did you ever wonder why they put them there? Well, speaking as the guy who spent a few summers installing them, let me tell you: so do I.
We don’t give much thought to bollards, as they are officially known, because they are merely featureless interruptions in the modern landscape. We see them in front of CostCo to make sure nobody drives right up to the door to load up their bounty. We see them in downtown areas to protect storefronts and sidewalks. And we see them in parking lots as the base to all the handicap signs to make sure the little old lady in the big Buick boat doesn’t just plow them right over.
Obviously, they serve the purpose of traffic control and pedestrian safety, but have you ever thought to yourself, “How much of a fight can they possibly put up against a car at 20 MPH?” The answer: one helluva fight, to be exact. Or at least, I hope so.
There is a published standard for how well these things do. They should be able to withstand an impact of up to 30 MPH by a vehicle weighing 4500 lbs or less. To put that in perspective, that’s about the weight of a Ford Explorer, give or take a couple car seats. I think that sounds pretty reasonable. But it’s not something you really think about, you know?
I worked for two summers in college at a company that painted lines on roads and parking lots. The restripe jobs were easy – just drive in and paint over the lines that already existed. It was the layout jobs that I disliked – walking onto a brand new parking garage and being responsible for the traffic flow of hundreds of thousands of cars. Come to think of it, the power was pretty intoxicating, even if the decisions were already made for you. But as much as the smell of fresh asphalt brings a rush of nostalgic memories, it was not a job I regret leaving.
See, when you are responsible for the lines on a new parking lot, you are responsible for everything else, too, including the bollards and the concrete wheel stops. We would bring the steel poles for the bollards with us, so you knew how many you were in for. But the wheel stops were usually delivered straight to the work site by the concrete company. Seeing a big pile like that could turn a bad morning into a loooong afternoon. Did I mention this was a summer job? As in out in the 100-degree heat on brand new asphalt?
See, wheel stops are secured in place by rebar posts. Get them started with a jackhammer, but finish them by hand. Bollards, on the other hand, are a completely different beast. You see, the nice folks that lay the asphalt don’t exactly leave nice, pretty holes for your bollards. That means when you have to install a bollard for every handicap sign in a huge Wal-Mart parking lot, you have to cut a bunch of holes. And then dig down three feet by hand, because the hole isn’t nearly big enough for any machinery. Hit rock two feet down? Sucks for you. Grab the digging iron and keep going. When you’re done, you put the bollard in place and fill it in with concrete that you mixed by hand, because you only need about 130 pounds of it. Better make sure that bollard is plumb before the concrete sets! Got that one? Good. Now get to work on the other 25.
Those summers were rough, and because of them, I also wish to live in a world where these scourges weren’t necessary. So the next time you curse the post that chipped your paint, remember: they exist for everyone’s protection. And try to commiserate with the poor bastard who had to dig that hole.