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  FlexiBOL®: Flexible Street Bollard and Railing System for New and Changing Urban Environment

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A set of FlexiBOL is installed in Causeway Bay of Hong Kong

Street functions have become increasingly dynamic in recent years. Streets are used daily by pedestrians and vehicular traffic, but also serve a number of other functions, such as serving as the locale for irregular or even unexpected events. Hong Kong residents are familiar with a host of events that take place on the territory’s streets, for example, the Lunar New Year Night Parade, the Hong Kong Marathon and political rallies. Many thousands of people gather on the streets to participate in these events or simply to take a peep at the action, thus requiring the Police and the Transport Department to implement a number of crowd management measures, including closing walkways and roads and rerouting traffic. Controlling crowds and managing the flow of traffic not only require a significant amount of manpower, but also the adjustment of such street furniture as bollard and railing systems. Existing bollard and railing designs, however, are not sufficiently flexible to allow these adjustments to be made with ease.

In collaboration with the Hong Kong Highways Department, related government departments and social organisations, Prof K W Michael Siu has led a team of researchers and designers in carrying out applied research projects whose aim is to generate flexible design solutions to meet today’s continuously changing urban needs. On the basis of long term site observations and product analysis of existing street furniture, the research team has developed a set of bollards and railings designed to meet the needs of Hong Kong and other densely populated metropolitan areas.

The design of FlexiBOL allows flexible applications for different purposes




In addition to advocating new directions for flexible design, Prof Siu’s team has developed a new bollard system design: FlexiBOL®. FlexiBOL constitutes a design and engineering breakthrough that will allow those responsible for crowd management to cope with the dynamic requirements of densely populated urban environments. The new design overcomes the limitations of existing, old-fashioned bollard systems, such
as vertically erected bollard systems, which are difficult to erect on the shallow walkways and roads that are common in Asian cities and that need to accommodate the installation of underground utilities. The operation and maintenance of these old-fashioned systems are also complicated, and the methods of attaching additional components for other purposes are complicated and difficult.

The FlexiBOL system, in contrast, is designed to match modern urban lifestyles, and its flexible design allows it to be easily modified in form to meet a variety of social, physical and environmental needs. For example, the system permits bollards to be removed completely, erected for either light or heavy duty protective purposes, incorporated with chains and light-duty railing panels, or any combination thereof. FlexiBOL is environmentally friendly, thereby ensuring a sustainable urban life, and can be easily repaired. Individual parts that have been damaged or ruined can be replaced, with no need to overhaul the entire system. Once FlexiBOL has been installed, government departments, property developers and related parties can plan for events on the city’s streets and in public spaces with greater ease. For example, the police can remove the entire bollard and railing system to free up pedestrian walkways and roads to accommodate huge groups at rallies, or they can remove part of the system to disperse the crowd or diversify the traffic flow.

The output of these applied research projects has garnered several international invention and design awards. Furthermore, the Highways Department has already installed different versions of FlexiBOL throughout Hong Kong, including in Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, to facilitate more flexible management of the urban environment. It is strongly hoped that the findings of and experience gained in conducting these projects will add new knowledge to the humanities and engineering disciplines and bring about further interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing public design issues.

Prof K W Michael Siu,
Principal Investigator and Leader, Public Design Lab, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Prof Kin Wai Michael SIU
Public Design Lab, School of Design
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University