Chuck Noland was marooned on a remote island. Accompanied by packages and a few dead bodies, he somehow survived. But he didn’t do so alone – he had the company of Wilson, a washed-up volleyball who stayed with him through thick and thin, until finally drifting away in the middle of the ocean, leaving the crestfallen Noland alone to face the sea.
A similar drama is playing out on the streets of St. Paul. A few years ago, the Starbucks (previously on Snelling and Selby) decided to move to the vacant lot on the Southeast corner of Snelling and Marshall. Key to Starbucks’ relocation plans was a drive-through that, presumably, would allow Starbucks to take advantage of the heavy traffic on Snelling, especially during rush hour. Starbucks’ site plan and drive-through layout survived a planning commission tie vote and the drive-through has now been operating for a year or so.
Those who voted against the plan and others who are wary of drive-throughs in urban, walkable neighborhoods knew that the proposed drive-through would be a recipe for disaster. And they were prescient: as soon as the drive-through was installed, drivers routinely disobeyed entry and exit signs, drove straight over the curb and sidewalk, queued in the bike lane, and made illegal u-turns – all in the name of convenient coffee. The bike-lane queuing was so bad that the city installed a few brave bollards to protect cyclists and pedestrians from the onslaught of caffeine-deprived traffic. And that’s where our story starts to parallel Chuck’s.
Those who value the protection afforded by those bollards, you see, have taken a few steps to raise their profile from mere plastic bollard to higher life-form. They have been named, dressed, photographed, videoed, mourned, montaged, and celebrated. They have attracted interest from across the pond (where bollards tweet, apparently). Some have died and rose again – or have been replaced – depending on your perspective.
If this all sounds absurd, it is. But it’s also not absurd in the least. To those who ride their bikes on St. Paul’s streets, it’s perfectly normal to appreciate the virtue of a simple plastic pole that at least suggests to drivers that it might not be a good idea to veer into a bike lane. It’s also not absurd to celebrate a group of brave souls (still talking about the bollards here) who are in place to try to impose order on what is plainly the worst layout for a drive-through in the Northern Hemisphere. These bollards stand for all that is right and just, and they need names so that we do not forget their service. They may lay down, but they will stand tall again (and then get knocked over).
I want to raise one question about these bollards in general and where they’re used throughout the city. There are many examples of sturdier bollards that would stand a better chance in an encounter with a car. There are huge, round bollards in front of Target, for example. And there are sturdy red bollards in front of the recently-renovated Arby’s on University. Why are these sturdier bollards more frequently used to protect buildings and the plastic bollards more often used to protect people in bikes or on foot?