From time to time — and more frequently than one might expect — there’s a story in the newspaper about someone driving into a storefront. It’s happened at McDonald’s, My Market, Rino’s, Gadaleto’s and most recently, at Access Physical Therapy, and it’s just common enough to make “drive-through” references in the headlines seem a bit overdone. Fortunately, none of the incidents in recent memory have resulted in injuries, but claims adjusters have doubtless been writing hefty checks to repair the damage.
“Maybe cars are different now,” said town building inspector Stacy Delarede. Hypotheses about the contributing factors might include a higher ground clearance that makes jumping curb stops easier, as well as the potential for distracted driving implicit in having a smartphone at the ready. Delarede herself can only say that she’s seen more of these incidents. “Any building can get hit.”
Whatever the reason, there’s been at least three incidents at the Cherry Hill Plaza, prompting its owner, Ed Hill Jr., to decide to install vehicle protection posts, more generally known as bollards. These are metal pipes, filled with concrete with an equal amount sunk into the ground as visible above (usually four feet). Sometimes pairs of bollards are connected into a single U-shaped unit, although those proposed for Cherry Hill are individual posts. At four inches in diameter, a pipe bollard will stop a vehicle moving five miles per hour, which might be sufficient for when a driver inattentively hits the gas from a full stop when the vehicle is in drive, rather than reverse. An eight-inch bollard will stop a car going 50 mph, more suitable to protecting gas tanks, electrical equipment and the like from a potentially disastrous collision.
An alternative to bollards, Delarede said, would be to install a thick rail made of timber. That’s not possible at Cherry Hill, where such a rail would need breaks in order to allow pedestrians to get to the stores. Shorter rails are less structurally sound, and every break in the rail requires a pathway in the lot, representing a loss of parking spaces.
Despite the fact that they are frequently painted in bright colors or adorned with highly reflective tape, bollards tend to fade into the background until they are called out, such as with an article like this one. Some of them are designed to disappear: there are models which can be lowered below the ground when not needed, and they can be painted to blend in, rather than stand out. Delarede said that grey is the one color she would not recommend, and that reflective tape can make them more visible in daylight (red) or by headlight (white). Highly visible ones are particularly useful to help truck drivers avoid collisions while backing up. It’s not clear how much of a factor visibility would play if a driver was distracted and put the car in the wrong gear, or hit the wrong pedal by mistake.
The purpose of bollards is safety, Delarede noted, but there are design decisions which must be made. That’s why she invited New Paltz Town Planning Board members to consider whether they want to come up with standards for them or not. Hill has retained Alfandre Architecture to come up with designs for the Cherry Hill bollards. Delarede said that, if standards are established, it could be as simple as a list of particular designs that may be used, or perhaps guidelines that would allow flexibility in selecting the appearance. One example she provided of a thoughtful design decision are the bollards protecting the entrance of Freihofer’s: most of them are bright yellow, but the two framing the handicapped spot are instead blue, reinforcing the purpose of that parking space. At the Mobil on Chestnut Street, the ones protecting the gas pumps are a shade of red which is in keeping with the branding there.
Material selection is related to maintenance, and maintenance is related to appearance. The bollards at Salvation Army, which Delarede used as an example, are “old, poorly maintained and look terrible.”
No matter the appearance, Delarede stressed, bollards “must meet the purpose” of stopping a vehicle from colliding with whatever’s on the other side of them.
When Planning Board members decide on if they wish to impose any sort of design standards, they will have to balance the need to install this important safety feature against any added expense or complexity which arise from the standards they ultimately impose, if any.