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June 07, 2006

Never mind the bollards


The last time I was on Parliament Hill in Ottawa I noted an almost complete absence of barriers preventing someone from, for example, driving a truck full of explosives up to and under the Peace Tower and, say, detonating it. The same is true for any number of attractive structures in Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere protected by nothing more than the curb and wishful thinking.

My impression is that the United States federal government has twigged to the possibility in a way Canada's has not; something to do with skills in connecting the dots, apparently. The short-term response in Washington, D.C. has been practical if aesthetically unsatisfying. Concrete highway barriers do the job - and are better than nothing - but turning our great public buildings into armed camps presents a poor face for, and is arguably debilitating to, our democracy.

Fortunately, there is a simple and - critical for budget-conscious Canadians - parsimonious alternative way to keep vehicles away from buildings without resorting to concrete moats. That alternative is the bollard. These are all over the landscape in London, no stranger to the explosive attentions of a variety of activists and spokesploders for the purportedly oppressed. Yet they are almost invisible because they blend in with the rest of the ironwork, street lighting and traffic signage. No surprise when their origins are considered. Many of the originals were spiked cannon confiscated from Napoleon's army at Waterloo and put to decorative effect in the streets of London. That is, if I have remembered the story correctly. Bollards can be mysterious relative to other public furniture. So, two fingers up to Napoleon instead of closing our eyes, sticking our fingers in our ears and waiting for the dust to settle. Traditional bollards would blend right in with the mock Gothic of Canada's Parliament Buildings and modernist iterations would make an attractive addition to much of Toronto's downtown core. They present no impediment to pedestrians but keep traffic in the street. This is a sensible precaution considering cars have been known to accidentally make their way on to the sidewalk even when not piloted by frothing at the mouth death cultists. Bollards also come in retractable varieties suitable for preventing just anyone from driving onto Parliament Hill in case anyone, you know, thinks that might not be a bad idea.

Now, obviously, stopping a truck is a different proposition than stopping a maniac with a bomb strapped around his waist. And the best security at the door will have trouble stopping that same maniac from detonating himself in the line-up for the security check. There is a limit to what we can do. But as is so often the case the perfect is the enemy of the good and in this instance doing something is so much better than doing nothing. If not for the competence of our security services, and whatever angels watch over this hard country, we might have had to learn this the hard way. There is plenty of time for bad luck yet. As has often been pointed out: Our luck only has to fail us once. In the meantime, I quite like the look of these Victory Bollards (pictured above).

Posted by Ghost of a flea at June 7, 2006 10:47 AM


We are just finishing a restoration or modernization of Kingston's Market Square and it is absolutely bollarderific but more at the corners to protect lighting fixtures and the like. Charlottetown has one in the downtown which is a vintage cannon but I am not sure why it is there or where it came from.

Posted by: Alan McLeod [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 7, 2006 01:42 PM