Are Flex Posts Less Dangerous?

Are Flex Posts Safer Than Stationary Bollards?

By Pete Medek - 11/1/19

I'll assume that you are familiar with the trail bollard hazard. If not, please read this first.

A flexible post or marker is typically used like its stationary or rigid counterparts on multi-use trails. They are usually placed directly in the middle of the trail at a crossroad. Though the flexys appear to serve the same purpose, there are some differences worth noting.

Flexible Bollard
A Flexible Post on the B&O Trail in Bellville, OH

Pseudo Bollard?

While the rigid bollard was tasked with keeping cars out, a duty it cannot always perform reliably, the flexible version is not designed to physically prevent vehicles from entering trails. It's designed to fold over on impact.

This more "forgiving" design means the flex post is not intended to physically stop cars, but rather discourage drivers from entering the trail. In other words, it's a signal to drivers that their vehicles are not permitted.

As such, it serves the same purpose as a traditional sign with one important difference -- it's in the middle of the trail. While some may suggest this makes them more effective, I would ask, "At what cost to trail users?"

Though the body of flexible posts / markers can be pushed back and are more forgiving, their bases are not. You'll typically find a base on these devices that is an obvious trip hazard. Flex markers recently installed on the Richland B&O Trail have a roughly 6" diameter base that's about 2-3" tall.

So we need to ask the obvious question here -- Is a well-placed marker or signal worth placing a trip hazard on the trail?

Deliberately placing any hazard on a trail is never a good idea. The flex post / marker is merely a signal or sign. It does not need to be in the middle of the trail where it can cause injury.

How Dangerous is a Flexy?

So, a few people may trip once in a while, what's the big deal, right? Well, consider this -- uneven sidewalks are considered a danger for pedestrians. Runners, bladers and bicyclists that commonly travel on multi-use trails move faster. Trip them up and they could easily do a faceplant or header (falling to the pavement head-first) with even more velocity (force). Head trauma is no small matter. It can lead to serious injury or even death.

I appreciate the fact that in some cases, flexys can do less damage to trail users. For example, a handlebar strike against a flexible post shouldn't cause a crash -- provided you don't run into the base. But substituting one hazard (solid bollard) for another (flexy base) is not the answer. Especially if you are a fan of Vision Zero.

The Crux of this Matter

The most egregious aspect here is that these trip hazards are deliberately placed. Unlike uneven sidewalks, which typically result from disrepair and poor maintenance practices. One can suggest that with proper maintenance, these sidewalk dangers would not exist.

The same cannot be said for the flex post hazard. Since they are deliberately placed, the installers are suggesting that their importance is so great, that some danger to trail users is acceptable.

Since it's already been established that flex posts are no more than signs or signals, this reasoning is obviously flawed. And a good example of how safety on bike trails is often subjectively doled out by trail builders and managers who get it wrong.

No hazard deliberately placed on a bikeway will make it safer. Period. Full-stop.

Flex Posts on the Street

In several ways, bike infrastructure on roadways is inherently more dangerous than on off-road multi-use trails. On the road, when forced to mitigate dangers from automobile traffic, flex posts can serve a legitimate purpose. Are they a hazard there, too? Sure, in absolute terms. But so are curbs, storm drains and unprotected intersections where cyclists are forced to mix with large numbers of cars.

On the road the lesser evil is often safer, while on the trail, no evil should be required. That is, if the goal is to have a genuinely "family-friendly" trail.

Learn more about common trail hazards.

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