Just how safe are these traffic management devices?

Just how safe are the traffic management devices known as bell bollards? I think the answer has to be as safe as the position in which they are situated by those utilizing them. As with any bollard, when sited intelligently they can have the desired traffic calming effect. Unfortunately, they are frequently used by local authorities as the cheapest way to prevent vehicles mounting pavements or central refuges, when they should in fact be looking at the reasons why the pavements and refuges are being mounted in the first place. All too often, placing a bell bollard in a particular location is done simply because of cost, and not because it is the best or most appropriate option available.

In Wimbledon, famous the world over for its annual tennis tournament, the London Borough of Merton sited a bell bollard in a central refuge at the junction of Wimbledon Hill Road and Worple Road. Since the bollard went in, there have been regular accidents involving cars being overturned. The manufacturers of these bollards claim that the design will deflect a vehicle back onto its line if it mounts the bollard, and promotional films have been produced to demonstrate that fact, but that may not be the case in all scenarios when other factors come into play.

A vehicle on its side after striking the bell bollard in Wimbledon

From the evidence of eye witness accounts from Wimbledon, it would appear that far from deflecting a vehicle back onto its line, the bell bollard has in actuality caused vehicles to flip onto their side, even at very low speeds. The one consistent element of all the accidents in Wimbledon is the fact that all the vehicles were in the process of turning right from Wimbledon Hill Road, into Worple Road. As a vehicle turns to the right, it will lean left, that is basic physics. It would seem in that situation, if the wheel of the vehicle on the driver’s side strikes the bollard and rides up it a bit, the momentum and lean will act to flip the vehicle over.

Sarah Davies, the lettings manager at nearby Haart estate agents told the local Wimbledon Guardian newspaper in February 2012, she had seen eight similar accidents happen at the junction and criticised Merton Council for not removing the bollard.

Merton Council eventually admitted there was a problem, the number of rolled vehicles could no longer be ignored, and at the tail end of 2012 they finally reconfigured the junction to make it safer.

Another victim of the infamous Wimbledon bell bollard

Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of Merton Council, said: "Removing the bollard completely would put pedestrians at risk so what we are doing is reconfiguring it so the curb will be doubled in height and there will be better signage for motorists. Hopefully it won’t happen and drivers will be careful but if they do cut the corner too fast they won’t hit the bollard, they will hit the curb".

"It’s a preventative measure that will also protect residents who cross half way. What motorists were doing was hitting the bollard and flipping over which was horrendous".

One can only imagine why it took them so long, but we can at least be thankful there were no fatalities whilst the local council came to its long drawn out, and seemingly reluctant decision. Were they afraid of possible litigation in respect to all the previous incidents at this accident black spot, or was it simply typical local authority inertia and an inability to make urgent decisions for the safety of the community in Wimbledon?


Local residents are interviewed in respect to the Wimbledon bell bollard  

Another problem bell bollard in north London

Similar incidents have also occurred at the other end of London in the Borough of Enfield, where another badly sited bell bollard has been the cause of accidents involving overturned vehicles, the latest of which was a narrow bodied local authority dustcart.

This particular bollard is situated right on the corner of a small cul-de-sac, where it emerges into another road. In respect to the dustcart, the carriageway at the end of cul-de-sac as it merges with other road has been artificially restricted by the construction of a built out pavement and a speed hump, and in addition, has been further restricted by the imposition of a bell bollard. The combination of the carriageway restriction and the metal bollard at the entrance of said road, serve to force a left turning dustcart to execute a very tight turn.

Due to the enforced tightness of the turn, which is taken at pretty much full lock, a distinct lean and pull to the offside of the vehicle will be felt. This is magnified when the vehicle is nearly fully laden, as this dustcart was. The effect is caused by the fact that the centre of gravity shifts upwards by a significant degree as the payload increases during the course of the Round.

It appears that the rear wheels clipped the aforementioned metal bollard as the dustcart executed the left hand turn. The vehicle was not moving at an excessive speed as it had just moved off from a standing start.

The act of clipping the bollard, the left hand turn on full lock, the almost fully laden narrow bodied vehicle and the high centre of gravity, seem to have provided enough lift to upset the vehicle. It was subsequently deduced from the evidence at the scene, that the weight of the dustcart, which would have been some 21 tonnes at the time, pulled the bell from the damp earth.

The bell bollard then rolled and the top of it was pushed into the soft earth. Its exposed concrete base then pushed the dustcart even higher in the air as the rear wheels passed over it, leading to the dustcart reaching a point of no return. It then slowly flipped onto its side. The weight of the vehicle, combined with the forces of gravity acting upon an inherently unstable lorry with such a high centre of gravity, could not be countered.

The dustcart on its side, about 45 minutes after the accident

The dustcart on its side with the original position of the bollard marked by the orange barrier

The dustcart in the process of being set upright by cranes


A video of the dustcart being recovered

From independent eye witness reports relayed by local residents in the Enfield Independent online, dated 7th November 2012, it would appear that the junction of these two roads has been a continuing source of problems over many years. These problems being due to the restrictions mentioned in the report above and in particular respect to the bell bollard, which provided the insidious catalyst for this particular incident.

The bollard has in the past been responsible for other vehicles either turning over or sustaining damage, including on one occasion, a milk float that landed on its side and sent milk cascading all over the road.

According to people living in World’s End Lane, the metal bollard was installed by the council approximately ten years ago and has caused nothing but problems. Andrew Flatley, who has lived in World’s End Lane for 44 years, said vans often hit the bollard and the council has been called out more than twice to repair it.

The 63-year-old, who heard the lorry overturn when he was working in his garage, said: “It’s very dangerous. To be honest, I think that bollard should never go back there”.

“The council has repaired it several times and that’s what I can’t understand. It’s not the first time so why haven’t they shifted it? To be honest I blame the council for it”.

The father-of-four added: “The council have spent an awful lot more money now than if they had just moved the bollard.”

As of the time of writing, 2nd February 2013, the bell bollard remains in situ having been reinstated after the accident involving the dustcart. This is despite the fervent wish of local residents for it to be removed permanently.

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