It was Sunday afternoon at L’Enfant Plaza, and a group of about 40 local politicians, officials and officials of union, NGOs and community organizations were using the railing along 7th Street, NW, as a platform to highlight the city’s failure to install bollards along the perimeter of the sidewalk. This is, after all, the same 7th Street that has seen so many tragic pedestrian accidents, and one that is hardly ideal for transiting young people and older, sicker commuters in and out of the Ballston mall.
The measures proposed, including the installation of bollards, would help to mitigate this hazard. As Blaine Harden, Executive Director of the DC Coalition for the Homeless, which advocated for the signs and railings along this sidewalk, pointed out, “In just one study, the presence of bollards along sidewalks prevented fatalities nearly 97 percent of the time.”
The problem is that a majority of Washingtonians seem to think that bollards are an appropriate remedy for a sidewalk hazard. A WTOP-y News Radio 1380/AM Washington poll from March found that 76 percent of respondents would support the construction of bollards for walkways, sidewalks and bike lanes.
There are several good reasons why bollards should not be installed along sidewalks, including that they can leave sidewalks disfigured and may harm wildlife.
But bollards do not provide the protection that society would reasonably expect. Local officials who oppose installing bollards risk embarrassing Washington, DC on the national and international stage. An orange bollard posted by the Byberry Bros., a Skidmore College engineering professor whose designs can be found across the world, actually guarantees safety more than a bollard. In the middle of a hazard zone, a bollard is simply an unnecessary and unwanted decoration.
Bollards prevent collisions between cars and pedestrians. But accident rates between cars and pedestrians are much higher in Seattle, where the display of bollards to improve pedestrian safety is in the process of being installed, than in Ballston, the Washington Post reported. Washingtonians should press for a unified, citywide policy that requires safe pedestrian crosswalks without bollards.