When a security bollard goes too far

By · Published in 2010

A Bollard and a Bench

Outside the new Atlantic Ave. LIRR terminal building in Brooklyn, security bollards double as benches but leave little room for anything else. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When the new terminal building at Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, critics and columnists praised the light and airy nature of the building. Featuring a seemless integration of art and architecture, the new terminal building is representative of the MTA’s current approach toward offering its customers a convenient and mostly state-of-the-art facilities when it opens new structures. Outside, though, the security bollards tell a different story, one of overreaction and blocked sidewalks to a public structure that needs to be able to handle heavy pedestrian flow.

When the new building first opened, attention was focused on the inside, but the security bollards, shown above, drew some warranted criticisms. Gersh Kuntzman in The Brooklyn Paper was particular critical of their appearance and size. He noted the bunker-like mentality of the security measures and called the giant bollards “14 mammoth concrete coffins that give the beautiful new facility the look of an outpost in the Green Zone.”

I ventured to the new terminal last week to snap some pictures and saw first hand the problem of the bollards. These things are massive. They take up the entire sidewalk and ring from one entrance to another. With little space between them, people are finding it hard to navigate, and anyone with bags or strollers will be out of luck. When trains let out and commuters come pouring out of the building to head to Fort Greene, pedestrian congestion too becomes an issue. As a security measure, these bollards are woefully in everone’s faces and serve as a stark reminder of the threat of terrorism.

This afternoon, Streetsblog took a tape measure to the bollards and found them to go well beyond the NYPD recommendations for security measures. While police handbooks recommend four feet of space in between bollards and a height no greater than 36 inches, these granite slabs are over 50 inches high and have less than 3.5 feet of space between them. As some serve as benches too — a last-gasp attempt to make them functional — their widths are tremendous as well.

So far, no one has laid claim to the design. The Empire State Development Corporation is notoriously tight-lipped with its plans, and the architects, the MTA and NYPD haven’t yet responded to Streetsblog’s request for clarification. The bollards were not, however, in the original design for the building.

The specter of terrorism and counterterrorist measures make for uncomfortable subjects. New York City’s subways are notoriously porous, and New Yorkers try not to dwell on the ways our city has become a target for America’s enemies. Still, these bollards do nothing to make a new train terminal accessible or user-friendly. They exacerbate fears about our safety while blocking the city’s sidewalks and its transit access points. There are tasteful ways to guard against terrorism, and then there are these granite blocks, seemingly dropped from a quarry onto Flatbush Ave. with no regard for purpose or appearance.

Categories : Subway Security

24 Responses to “When a security bollard goes too far”

  1. Aaron says:

    Yeesh. Is there enough clearance between them to satisfy the ADA clearance requirements for wheelchairs? I can just hear my wheels scrape against that miserable rock, it’s like imagining nails scrape across a chalkboard.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Any given amount of money for security that’s not spent on improving ventilation in the subway is a waste. The London attacks killed 50 people, but in the aftermath, US counterterrorism experts warned that the same bombs in New York would have killed many more people due to the city’s worse ventilation system.

  3. frank says:

    Are the barriers on the CDOT sidewalk? If so, did this not need to go to the Public Design Commission?

  4. Sara says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Aaron and Sean. What’s the verdict, Ben?

  5. I prefer to think they are there to protect pedestrians from crazy drivers, not terrorists.

    • CenSin says:

      Crazy drivers can’t go through that much stone and deal damage; that would require some planning.

      And I’m not sure if terrorism is even an issue we should be so worried about.

  6. rhywun says:

    these bollards do nothing to make a new train terminal accessible or user-friendly

    Not only that, they do nothing to protect against terrorism. It’s a just a “Look, see! We’re doing something” mentality–like much of the ridiculous theater at our airports. What a joke.

  7. Scott E says:

    There are plenty of simple, clean bollards that can be used. Simple “stems” from the sidewalk, a foot wide at he base and perhaps four feet high, and covered with decorative dark metal (as opposed to the simple concrete ones that typically protect fire hydrants). That would have been nice. This is overkill.

    I’d say it should be removed, but it’s made of expensive granite that you don’t just throw in a dumpster. Granite — really? Wouldn’t concrete have done the job?

  8. Josh K says:

    I for see a change order in the MTA’s future. Like Scott E says, there are many better, just as good bollard options for the same location that would have worked just as well. These things just reek of last minute add-on that wasn’t fully thought through.

  9. David Robertson says:

    Those bollards are quite useful for an imaginary terrorist who has a M1 Abrams tank, Panzer tank or Russian T90 battle tank and can drive it down Atlantic Ave without road rage.

    Those bollard are great security measure against underwear, chest vest and back pack full of explosives, “14 mammoth concrete coffins that give the beautiful new facility the look of an outpost in the Green Zone.” [Dick Cheneys’ Haliburton had an exclusive no bid contract to supply the US Army – now Jay Walder gives his English buddies an exclusive no bid contract $200 an hour] some contractor & administrator got paid off in the guise of terror.

    • Why the Walder hate? He had nothing to do with this design. He came in October, and this project was conceived and approximately 90 percent constructed well before he had anything to do with the MTA. Unnecessary attack there.

      • David Robertson says:

        $200 an hour, exclusively for his English buddies

        • I’m (a) dying to know what that has to do with these bollards and (b) wondering why you think it would be cheaper to find a consultant in the states to do it. Take a look at the contract bid results and tell me. If you really think “up to $200 a day,” as was reported in October, is steep, you should place some calls to McKinsey and find out their hourly billing rates. (Hint: It’s a lot higher.) I’ll give you that the no-bid contract doesn’t look good, but the Board shouldn’t be approving those.

          Anyway, I don’t understand this attitude at all. If you’re MTA labor, as I suspect, Walder’s your boss, and you owe it to him to give him a fair chance. You have to give him more than 110 days to prove himself. He does know what he’s doing. This inherent skepticism over absolutely nothing from insiders and employees is why people think the entire organization, from top to bottom, is filled with corrupt jokesters who can’t get along with each other.

          • David Robertson says:

            As you may please, we will give Walder time as you please 110, one year, ten years, a century as you like.

            I am a Elliot Lee Sander fan.

            • I am a Elliot Lee Sander fan.

              Ah, I see. That makes sense. I was too, and I think a lot of advocates and pro-transit people were. He was one of the best the MTA could have had at the top, and he got shafted by Albany after the economy turned soured. I think his ouster was a stupid move by the state legislature, but I can’t think of anything they’ve done in two years that actually made sense.

              • David Robertson says:

                It is true Walder is my boss, however we do not like him. My whole family works for the MTA, my brother and I are white collar, our off springs are blue collar.

                We loved Elliot Lee Sander & his wonderful wife, his family, we will never forget him, our homes are open for him 24/7, his background and ours are almost identical – coming from struggling backgrounds making our way his in Queens, us in Harlem – he always talked with blue collar.

                However Walder talks at blue collar, creating unnecessary hostilities – now you can imagine, how we have to deal with our children at home.

                • AlexB says:

                  Walder has talked about laying off desk job people, and not contesting the raises to the blue collar folks. How is he anti-blue collar? Is it just because he’s coming from London, using a few fancy-ish consultants, and therefore must be snotty? Sander and Walder were both quite good. We’ve been lucky to have both of them instead of somebody’s campaign donor who knows nothing about transit.

                  • Andrew says:

                    What was so good about Sander? To be fair, I don’t have anything particularly bad to say about him, but I can’t point my finger at anything particularly good that he accomplished. What am I missing?

                    As for Walder, so far I like what I see.

        • Christopher says:

          I second Benjamin’s claim. I’m a low level graphic designer and I charge $200 a day. I know some that charge $200 an HOUR. $200 a day is barely entry level. If you are a white collar MTA employee, you make way more than $200 a day and get benefits and social security tax paid by the MTA. A consultant gets neither.

          • David Robertson says:

            I was a blue collar for a long time before becoming a white collar – ‘I have earned it’ as J.A. Preston told Col. Nathan R. Jessup in a few good men movie – I believe he was not significant to you because he was (a) African American (b) he was Judge (Col) Julius Alexander Randolph (c) all eagles are equal and he has earned it – for African Americans when he said ‘he earned it’ – it was stronger than Jessup ‘you can’t handle the truth’


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  2. […] opening of the terminal drew a flurry of attention to the bollards. I didn’t go for them last year while Streetsblog noted how they exceeded the NYPD’s anti-terrorism guidelines. The Brooklyn […]

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