British Columbia·In Depth

How cities are being redesigned to protect pedestrians from vehicles

Architects and urban planners are working to design cities that remain attractive places but use subtle methods such as bollards, planters and other structures to protect pedestrians from vehicles, including attacks such as the one that took place in Toronto.

Businesses and architects respond to call for better protection for pedestrians

A worker at Reliance Foundry in Surrey, B.C., puts the finishing touches on a bollard designed to protect pedestrians. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Brad Done watched carefully as a machinist drilled a hole into a bright yellow metal tube about a metre long and 10 centimetres across at his Surrey, B.C., business, Reliance Foundry.

The pole is called a bollard, designed to be set into the ground to keep vehicles away from people and buildings.

The demand for this product is so strong it's become the main focus of his business, which once forged metal into tools and other products for B.C. industries.

Brad Done runs Reliance Foundry in Surrey, B.C. He says decorative bollards are a huge part of his business in a security-conscious world. (Chris Corday/CBC)

"The bollard business for us is thriving, it's now our No. 1 sales product."

Some bollards are just ugly metal tubes filled with concrete, Done said.

Increasingly, though, designers are looking for decorative barriers made from cast iron or stainless steel. Some serve double duty as bicycle racks.

It's this market that Reliance is homing in on. Bollards with decorative metal covers help disguise the beefy metal and concrete barriers beneath.

"We ship product into every state in the U.S. and every province and territory in Canada," he said on a tour of his warehouse.

Bollards erected on sidewalks and plazas protect pedestrians in Times Square, New York City. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

"We have product in front of the Federal Reserve, Apple headquarters, Cirque du Soleil, major hotel chains, major restaurants, just about everything."

His company alone is now selling about 15,000 bollards a year.

Attacks using vehicles on the rise

Worldwide, the number of deliberate attacks using vehicles against pedestrians has been on the rise.

Since 2006, more than 200 people have died and 1,000 injured in these attacks around the world. Most are linked to terrorism.

New York architect and urban designer Claire Weisz says Times Square and other attractions are trying to balance security and public access. (Steven D'Souza/CBC)

In New York's Times Square, Claire Weisz an architect and urban designer, showed CBC News changes made to protect pedestrians, such as bollards and granite slabs.

"You're looking at a Times Square today that went through a complete replanning."

She pointed to a nearby metal pole that did its job as designed.

"When a car came through here in a deliberate act, that car was impaled over there on two of these bollards. The bollard didn't go anywhere and the car didn't go any further."

Barriers have saved lives

Weisz said early attempts at improving security were often hard to look at, but more recent measures have made public spaces more attractive and functional.

"You have to have designers, artists, community members, security experts all in the room together. This simply can't be an engineered solution."

Andy Yan, director of the Cities program at Simon Fraser University, says Vancouver and other cities are working to find ways to separate vehicles and people for all kinds of reasons. (Chris Corday/CBC)

In Vancouver, Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, agreed with the approach.

Standing on a busy Vancouver street, he noted that although deliberate attacks are on the increase, so are accidents.

He said urban designers have to be creative to protect people from vehicles.

Yan said concrete planters, benches and landscaping are part of the solution.

"Public art can also be about the safety of pedestrians, and something that is quiet, as opposed to something that is explicit, that I think really broadcasts fear as opposed to an element of safety."

Designers are using benches, artwork and planters to protect sites where thousands of people can gather, such as the new public space outside Vancouver's Art Gallery. (Chris Corday/CBC)

In New York, Weisz said the public has to understand there are limitations.

"You're never going to come up with something that works all of the time. That's just a fact we all have to live with."

Watch a truck crash into a bollard


Greg Rasmussen

National Reporter

Greg Rasmussen is a National Reporter for CBC news based in Vancouver. He's covered news stories across Canada and around the world for more than two decades. Follow him @CBCGreg on twitter.