Bollards & Post Covers

East vs. West: The Bollards of New York and California

Two pictures placed together, one of palm trees, the other of the Statue of Liberty

Do cultural differences show up in traffic management orders?

Two pictures placed together, one of palm trees, the other of the Statue of Liberty
Would California’s bollards be different than New York’s?

It’s a longstanding, mostly-friendly competition: which is the better place to be, LA or NYC? The two biggest cities in the United States are each entertainment powerhouses and centers of American cultural and financial activity. Yet different climates and demographics distinguish them, making them very different places to set up shop.

Curious to see whether these cultural differences would influence something as simple as bollard orders, we decided to peer into our sales receipts to see if we could find trends. We were surprised at the differences, in fact: the top selling bollards in New York sold only an eighth the volume in California. Given the relative population sizes, this is remarkably different. New York bought one tenth the volume of California’s best-loved bollards. Through all our sales receipts it became obvious: the coasts have very different approaches to site furnishings.

California: yellow bollards and bike lockers

A stainless steel bollard stands on a sunny stone pathway
These California bollards are removable to allow vehicle access.

A simple bollard used creatively

The number #1 selling bollard model across California was the simplest of all our posts, the R-7902. This steel, domed cylinder is a simple geometric shape that stands like a fence post, marking its area.

Unlike many jurisdictions, sunny California chose more yellow bollards than black ones, at a rate of 2-to-1. In fact, down the line, California experimented with color a lot more than New York did, with many orders in a variety of colors, as well as brushed stainless steel.

California bollards may have trended towards one simple style, but the same can not be said of the bollard mounts. All possible mounting options were used. One third of our R-7902 bollards were shipped with the specialized “fold-down” mounting, which allows the bollard to be unlocked and tipped on a hinge and laid flat to the ground. That these orders were so plentiful is especially interesting given that individual sites often only need one or two of them: operable bollards like this are often used one at a time in a line of fixed bollards, providing one access point to vehicles, rather than many.

A blue Kona bicycle peeks a wheel out of a bike locker
These bike lockers have a wedge shape that allows 20 to be placed in a neat circle.

Indoor parking in an active climate

California’s first-and-second place winners in bike parking are quite close in number. The first place winner in the category was our standard, round-tube ring bike rack. This isn’t a particularly surprising detail, since ring racks are our top-selling bike rack choice overall, by a substantial margin.

What was more surprising was how close second-place was. In California, bike lockers were only a few units away from taking the lead in total numbers and individual purchase orders.

California is known for its Mediterranean climate, without extremes in temperature. Parking a bike outdoors seems much more inviting under a sunny sky, where you’re unlikely to come back to a sodden seat, and where rust from the elements and deicing chemicals is much less of a worry. Indoor bike-storage spaces might intuitively seem to be more useful in New York state, where the weather is more extreme.

However, a good explanation for this difference is in the proportion of commuters riding to work every day, perhaps because of the weather. 2013 Census data, visualized in a map, shows 1.1% of California’s workers use a bicycle to commute, compared to 0.5% of workers in New York State. 2016 figures from the League of American Cyclists show that New York and Buffalo are both nurturing a growing cycle-commuting culture—but California still dominates the list of cycle commuting cities.

The demands of a cycle commuter are different than those of an average cyclist. Figures show that the longer a bike is parked in an outdoor location, the more likely it is to be stolen. Businesses picking parking options must balance security and convenience: lockers are a more secure option for cycle commuters who will be parking their bikes for hours at a time at work or at a transit station, whereas racks are more convenient for the cycling tourist or shopper running errands.

New York: Decorative bollards and modernist racks

A line of black bollards that look like chess pawns stand linked by black chain near a stone building
Traditional architecture is enhanced by black decorative bollards.

A vintage classic with modern appeal

California’s architecture and New York’s come from different histories: California reflecting the adobe of its Indigenous populations, the stucco and plaster of Spain, the sprawling wood-framed shape of the ranch house, and the concrete and glass of modernist movements. In contrast, New York’s colder perch on the Atlantic shows more influence of older English and Dutch styles, including Gothic, Tudor, and Victorian styles, although waves of immigration and innovation have all left buildings in their wake. The Art Deco design of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are iconic to New York, and so is the Modernist masterwork of the MOMA.

Some of New York’s historic buildings are reactions to a troubled history. In 1835, there was a Great Fire in New York City that engulfed 17 city blocks, destroyed hundreds of buildings along with the goods inside them, and killed two people. In the aftermath, building codes restricted wood-frame building. All restoration and new construction were done with stone and brick instead. New York is now famously the home of brownstone walk-ups and carved stone facades, each providing a traditional aesthetic.

New York bollard orders reflect this tradition. The model R-7539 was chosen throughout the state. These bollards are shaped in a style that has historically British roots, yet they have been given New-World flair. Often installed with a black powder coat reminiscent of the blacking done on cannon bollards, these dignified little posts stand as sentries and guides. Chains can be added to create a visual fence, traditionally draped like curtain swag for a pleasing decorative line. A line of these bollards looks as formal as the weighty buildings they protect.

A studio shot of most of a circle, interrupted by mounts at the bottom, made of square tubing
New York bike rack orders choose a modern sensibility for a popular design.

More people are cycling than ever, and as cycling has transformed from an enthusiast or child’s activity to become a major mode of transportation, bike racks have evolved. It is rare to see the old schoolyard racks, which only hold and lock a bicycle’s front tire, because holding the bike by only one tire can lead to theft and breakage. Cycling advocates recommend locking a bike with two points of contact between the rack and the frame. The ring rack provides this in an elegantly simple geometry that can be installed singly or in groups, depending on the needs of the location. Given the pleasing shape and surface or embedded mounting options, it is no surprise that this is our top seller.

New York state’s unique style means it has found a modernist spin on the ring-rack classic. In most of the country, round-tube versions are the top selling ring-racks. In New York last year, square tube racks were preferred: sometimes in stainless steel, and sometimes in powder-coated black.

A sense of place built with small details

Both New York and California have rich histories, styles, architecture, and culture. A visitor to either state does not need to travel to museums or spend money in the favorite local businesses to start feeling the differences in these locations. The quality of the sun, the smell of the ocean, and whether you’re looking at palm or maple trees communicate the differences in geography, ecosystem, and climate.

Built environment also tells its own story, subtly indicating the climate and culture grown from people. Architecture, signage, and even small details like bollards and waste baskets are influenced by these differences in culture and create a distinctive sense of place and space. Each individual building or street further differentiates itself with its style choices. The unobserved aspects of environment affect our human perception more than we’re aware. It is interesting to take a moment and look at these small differences to see what stories they might be telling.