Pedestrian Barriers

OK, not strictly a sign, but these do constitute street furniture and therefore sort of come under the remit of what I write about. In any case, as an advocate of uncluttered streets, I feel I need to speak on this subject.

As we all know, the UK has fallen foul of three horrific terrorist attacks in three months. Two of these involved the use of a vehicle driven at high speeds into pedestrians using bridges in London. The third was a suicide bombing in central Manchester.

The London attacks have raised questions about protecting pedestrians from vehicle borne attacks, something we perhaps had not really considered until the Bastille Day attacks in Nice last year where over 80 people were killed by a HGV driven at speed through a pedestrianised area along the Promenade des Anglais.

Back to London, following the latest attack on London Bridge there has now been a demand for the reinstatement of pedestrian barriers along bridges to ‘keep pedestrians safe’. This is a misguided approach for several reasons, but unfortunately as tragedy always demonstrates, the desire to be seen as responsive trumps the appropriateness of the response.

The press have been scathing that former mayor Boris Johnson embarked on a policy of removing barriers.

  1. Daily Mail
  2. The Sun
  3. Daily Star

They think this policy should immediately be reversed and barriers put up virtually everywhere a vehicle might potentially leave the carriageway. This completely ignores the fact that guard rails do not prevent intentional high speed collisions.


Westminster Bridge with its new concrete blocks – photo: Evening Standard

Temporary ‘varioguard’ type installations have been installed on major London bridges as a swift response. The main problem is that these barriers have been placed in such a rushed and unconsidered fashion that they create bottlenecks on the approaches to the bridges for pedestrians, have effectively removed cycle lanes, and worst of all, made it harder for pedestrians to escape any potential attacks using other means such as knives, guns, or improvised explosives. ‘Varioguard’ type equipment is designed to keep road workers safe at vulnerable road works sites by deflecting the vehicle striking it; it is not designed to allow pedestrians to climb over it. As an anti-terror measure it is completely the wrong tool.

Bridges have a shallow deck. Conventional ram-raid type bollards cannot be installed as the anchorage needed cannot be provided. However, there are other means of stopping vehicles available for bridges, including shallow foundation bollards and high containment barrier kerbs.

I sincerely hope that the authorities are going to consider this rather than leaving frankly unpleasant and inconvenient barriers that make the day to day lives of Londoners worse, all for the illusion of security. The current set up will just increase vehicle speeds and deter people from walking and cycling, which is completely against all current transport policy in the capital region.


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