Compton-based Calpipe designs bollards for public spaces

Written by

Vehicles are increasingly being used as weapons, as seen in the London Bridge attack over the weekend and in New York’s Times Square last month. The Compton-based company Calpipe is designing security bollards to help make public spaces safer.

Vehicle attacks on crowds are on the rise, either by terrorists or dangerous drivers. This is impacting the design of public space, with officials placing security bollards — the short, sturdy posts that rise out of the ground — near pedestrian areas that draw large crowds. But how do you protect pedestrians without making them feel they are in a hostile space?

The Compton-based company Calpipe made the bollards that stopped a car on a deadly rampage at New York’s Times Square. We talk about designing bollards to protect not fortify, the ways in which they can disguised as street furniture, and the public spaces in Los Angeles where you might find them.

“So if you just go back two years, maybe people didn’t think of vehicles being used as weapons. But in fact, in the last two years, between Europe and North America, more people have been killed in terrorist incidents using vehicles than have been killed using guns or bombs,” said Rob Reiter, chief security consultant with Calpipe.

This past Saturday, seven people died and 48 were injured when three men drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge, then began stabbing people in nearby bars and restaurants.

A similar vehicular ramming incident occurred on London’s Westminster bridge a couple of months ago, and before that in a Berlin marketplace and on the seafront in Nice. At least 173 people have been killed and more than 700 wounded in 17 ramming attacks around the world in the past 3 years.

Calpipe’s security bollards installed in New York’s Times Square. Photo courtesy Calpipe. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Obviously not all sidewalks can have barriers, but jurisdictions and property owners are increasingly adding defensive features to public areas, such as security bollards.

And Compton firm Calpipe is a company they often turn to. It’s a family company, run by Dan Markus, Sheri Caine-Markus and their son Dylan Markus.

“What we originally manufactured was electrical conduit systems, which is basically the piping that are used to protect wire and cables,” Dylan Markus said. He recounts that his father began getting unusual requests for 36-inch non-threaded conduit pieces.

“So he finally asked, ‘what are you using this for?’ And the person responded and said that they’re actually installing them in parking lots and filling them with concrete to be used as bollards. And so he kind of got to thinking, ‘well hey, you know, we’re getting a lot of requests for these pipes or conduit and they’re using them for bollards. Maybe with all of our manufacturing capabilities we could just produce them in-house.’ And that was the start of Calpipe Security Bollards.”

As it happens, DnA visited Calpipe last month, on the very same day that a car plowed into pedestrians at New York’s Times Square and was stopped by bollards that had been made by Calpipe.

“Times Square is the most busy pedestrian area in the world by a lot,” Reiter said. “It was quite a surprise to me. And they have a terrorist problem. They have obviously a crazy driver problem. And there are just so many people and an out-of-control bus can hurt an awful lot of people. So early in the planning when they were going to redo Times Square and upgraded they wanted to put in protection for pedestrians. And of course as the terrorist incidents of vehicle attacks have increased in the last two years, the level of protection that they wanted to provide increased as well.”

Some of the bollards that Calpipe manufactures are fixed in place, and some are removable. Some can retract into the ground, while others can’t.

Calpipe security bollards installed at the Santa Monica Pier. Photo courtesy Calpipe. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Calpipe’s bollards are increasingly being used in public places in the Southland, from downtown Long Beach to the Santa Monica Pier to the Hollywood Bowl.

There have been episodes of vehicle attacks along the coastal communities of Southern California in recent years. An 86-year-old man drove his car into the Santa Monica farmers’ market in 2003, killing ten people and injuring 63, later claiming he tried to push the brake but hit the gas instead. And in 2013, the driver of a Dodge Avenger “squeezed past yellow bollards meant to block vehicle access and plowed through a crowd” on the Venice Beach boardwalk, killing an Italian honeymooner and injuring 17 people.

“The Santa Monica event is one of the things that moved me less on the anti-terrorist side and more on to the storefront protection and everyday use. Because what I found in doing research is that grandma and grandpa on medications are injuring far more people than terrorists are in the U.S.,” Reiter said. “Thousands of people are injured and hundreds killed every year when people lose control of their cars in crowds or in shopping centers.”

Bollards aren’t always easy to spot. They sometimes take the shape of benches, water fountains, streetlights, signposts and planters.

“There’s all kinds of what look like artistic things that actually underneath are bristling with anti-terrorists capabilities,” Reiter said. “In the streets of L.A., around houses of worship and large musical venues, there are many ways of keeping cars away from crowds.”

The company’s employees now design, cut and weld metal bollards and the invisible foundations that provide their strength. They also work with clients on custom-designs.

There was an artist, I believe in New Mexico, who wanted to do a sundial on the top of a bollard face… and they wanted us to laser etch the different times on the sundial face. That was interesting. I think we had to pass on that one. But we’ve had a number of crazy designs geometric shapes of all sorts. One that really sticks out in my mind — I’m really excited and it’s still in the process of working through — there’s a company I believe out of Oklahoma that is trying to protect a vital silo vent for a nuclear power plant. But they need it to withstand… an impact from a car that was being hurled by a tornado. So anti tornado bollards is a project that we’re working on,” said Carlos Gonzalez, who manages Calpipe’s bollards department.”

Greg Davidson, sales lead with Calpipe, said he’s hyper aware of the presence — or absence — of bollards in his daily life.

“Absolutely. You could be sitting in front of Starbucks having your coffee and realize, ‘boy am I close to whatever car is pulling in right now. And there’s nothing dividing the two of us.’ So you know, I’m not sitting on the edge, I’m not sitting with my back to the edge. If I’m walking around with people I’m making them aware and also pointing it out to them, ‘hey did you know what that was? Did you know what that was? Look, they’re everywhere,'” Davidson said.