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Downtown Vancouver Bollards

Bollards perform many functions on busy urban streets

March 6, 2019

A bollard with a keyhole and a strip saying Reliance foundry guards a closed alleyway with lanterns strung across it
A locked bollard makes an alley into a pleasant, safe pedestrian space.

Reliance Foundry was first established in Vancouver, Canada, in 1925. Although our business has changed, moved, and grown, we are happily still connected to the city.

Downtown Vancouver offers a lot to enjoy. In the square mile that surrounds the distinctive Colosseum-styled central library, there are two stadiums, theatre stages, an entertainment district, historical walks and sites, shopping, restaurants, spas, and the famous Vancouver Art Gallery. Dotted throughout these busy urban streets are numerous bollards. They direct traffic, protect people, and shape space throughout the city’s core. We took a tour downtown to document the bollards around famous Vancouver landmarks.

A series of black bollards with eye rings each have slatted metal fences attached as gates.
Event attendees can line up through the fence gates and be out of traffic.

Granville Street: removable bollards and fences for configurable crowd control

A domed column is a simple black metal bollard
Bollard Stats:
  • Model: R-7902
  • Height: 36 in
  • Body Diameter: 4-1/3 in
  • Base Diameter: 4-1/3 in
  • Weight: 29 lbs
  • Material: Steel

Granville Street is the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district. More than thirty clubs, pubs, and event venues dot a stretch of only seven blocks. Popular acts at the Orpheum Theatre, the Vogue Theatre, and the Commodore Ballroom bring floods of people. Many of the district’s pubs and clubs fill to capacity every weekend. With so much activity on the street, removable bollards and fences provide a stable system of crowd control. The configurable system keeps people away from pedestrian thoroughfares while they’re waiting for the door. When the crowds have gone inside, the bollards can be taken down, to return space to the sidewalk.

Bollards are a form of communication. Here, they lay out an expected behavior and way of organizing. This addition of a fence-and-bollard system helps cut down on the conflict that arises when things are unclear. It’s also hard to push into a protected line. To jump the queue would require fence hopping.

Unlike a rope and post system, removable bollards cannot be removed without a key. They also won’t tip over if someone bumps them.

Beyond a single stainless steel bollard sits a large stone plaza with a collection of orange tables and chairs
The addition of a perimeter welcomes people in to protected, out-of-traffic space.

Georgia Street: removable bollards around the gallery plaza

A stainless steel bollard with the components of a removable mounting system

Bollard Stats:

  • Model: R-8464
  • Height: 35-1/2 in
  • Body Diameter: 4-1/2 in
  • Base Diameter: 6-1/2 in
  • Weight: 26 lbs
  • Material: 316 Stainless

On the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a large public plaza that has been a gathering place for decades. It hosts events such as art installments, festivals, political demonstrations, and municipal ceremonies. The public plaza has made the Art Gallery an engaging center of activity in Vancouver.

Recent revitalization efforts have also made the square more comfortable to individual use. When not hosting large events, it’s now more like a public park. There are chairs and tables, shade, and other amenities that encourage people to make use of the space. Bollard installation was part of the work of welcoming people, setting a periphery that invites people in. As a form of communication, it creates a boundary around a gathering place.

After revitalization construction completed, the plaza was reopened with the name “šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square.” This name includes two Indigenous languages, each naming the square as a place of cultural gathering. The name honors the history of the land and its present use.

The bollards communicate this sense of gathering, but they are flexible enough to allow the plaza to be accessed by vehicles. When they are in place, the area is a protected park. Before large events, the bollards can be taken down so trucks and other transport can get through. Stages, food trucks, or other amenities may be pulled in and set up. The bollards can then be set back in place to create separated areas again.

A stainless steel bollard in the foreground shows an attractive urban scene and artistic station painting
Fixed bollards never open to traffic: they can be used with a removable bollard offering singular access.

Georgia Street: permanent bollards to protect passersby

A stainless steel bollard has anchor points below grade for setting into fresh cement

Bollard Stats:

  • Model: R-8460
  • Height: 35-1/2 in
  • Body Diameter: 4-1/2 in
  • Base Diameter: 6-1/3 in
  • Weight: 20 lbs
  • Material: 316 Stainless

Across from the Vancouver Art Gallery, to the south-east, is the sprawling Pacific Center Mall. The mall stretches over many blocks, connecting below ground and over skywalks. Dotted around the mall are a few outdoor spaces for shoppers to relax. On Georgia Street, one such space sits, nestled between the Vancouver City Centre SkyTrain (Vancouver’s equivalent of a subway or metro line) station and Nordstrom’s north entrance.

In the summer especially, this is a bustling intersection. Exiting the City Centre station, people find food trucks, flower merchants, bicycles-for-hire, and street entertainers. Foot traffic is plentiful. People stream towards office buildings, the mall, the Granville entertainment district, and Robson street. In the middle of this activity sits this little urban square: an opportune space for people to meet. On sunny days, it might also contain shoppers lounging, workers on a break, and tourists pausing to get oriented.

Stainless steel fixed bollards around the plaza help separate those taking a break from those in the flow of the street. The bollards define slower and quicker paced pedestrian areas. These bollards help define the area for tables and chairs to be placed. People are invited to rest, lunch, or meet up without impeding traffic.

A line of black, thick bollards each have three annular rings as a decorative element
When traffic patterns change abruptly, bollards can help communicate the change.

Cambie Street: protective bollards for urban housing

A black domed bollard has three thick metal rings as a decorative element at the top
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Bollard Stats:

  • Model: R-7576
  • Height: 34 in
  • Body Diameter: 5-3/4 in
  • Base Diameter: 5-3/4 in
  • Weight: 51 lbs
  • Material: Ductile Iron
  • Max Interior Pipe
    • Height: 31 in
    • Diameter: 4-1/2 in

According to Demographia’s rankings for housing affordability, Vancouver is the second-least affordable housing market in the world. Rising land and building costs have made it hard for the city to address homelessness. In recent years, city hall has been building temporary modular housing units to address emergency need. These units offer supportive housing on underutilized city land. They are meant to stay tenanted for 3–5 years, with the possibility of another 5-year renewal at the end of the lease.

In 2018, this program placed temporary homes on Cambie and Dunsmuir. Their location fills one half of parking lot that traditionally provides overflow parking to nearby stadia. It’s underutilized space, however: the parking lot is busy but not always full. Its location is at the edge of three neighborhoods: Chinatown, Downtown, and Gastown. Since it’s not in the center of any of these neighborhoods, it sees less traffic.

Still, for residents, it is an accessible area. There is a busy SkyTrain station nearby, and the area is served by transit.

Yet adding housing to a parking lot creates an unexpected traffic change. To prevent accidents in this mixed-use space, the city installed a perimeter of security steel-and-concrete bollards around each structure. Each security bollard has a sturdy and protective cast iron cover. These bollards provide protection to the residents of the modular homes. Yet, like the fixed bollards in front of the Pacific Center location, they are mostly a guide to traffic. They are a form of communication, telling people where they’re safe to be.

Vancouver’s sleek modern lines

Vancouver is sometimes known as “The City of Glass” due to its predominant architecture. The West-Coast contemporary style favorited in Vancouver is modernist and smooth. Glass and steel rise up in simple geometric forms, with open interior layouts that invite in the light. This modernist style is echoed in the types of bollards found in downtown Vancouver.

The bollards can even help tie unlikely buildings into the West-Coast contemporary style. The Vancouver Art Gallery is housed in a neoclassical building. It was once used as the main courthouse, and is built with the traditional elegance and weight of decorative stone. This building’s classical columns and sweeping staircases could be underlined with more formal iron decorative bollards. The choice of glossy stainless steel provides contrast and lightening to the neoclassical look. It lends a note of simpler style, inviting a more casual approach to the plaza behind the bollards. This modernist simplicity is echoed in the other bollards in the downtown core; each bollard defining and directing, but their aesthetic each in keeping both with their function and the look of the city around them.

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