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Section 7: Traffic Barriers and Guard Fences

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Concrete traffic barriers, metal beam guard fences, and pedestrian control fences are visually prominent features of the highway. The aesthetic properties of these structures that can be manipulated to achieve aesthetic objectives are:

Color. Color of the base material should be considered before electing other finishing options. The color of natural concrete or galvanized steel is not particularly bad when it blends well with the background and the immediate surroundings. However, when these colors will not blend other options should be considered.

Finish. The finish of a barrier, guard beam, or fence can be manipulated to change the color or texture. Concrete surfaces can be manipulated to create different textures and colors. The section on Surface Finishes discusses the options in more detail.

Materials. New technologies provide an abundance of materials that can be used for traffic barriers, guard beams, and fences. Vinyl coatings with integral color are now available for steel products, so chain link fences and even guard beams do not necessarily have to show galvanized finishes. Some of these products are expensive but prices are becoming more reasonable over time. Other materials such as Coreten steel are popular materials where a weathered, rustic look is desired.

Location. The location of barriers, rails, and fences is equally important. Concrete traffic barriers and steel guard beam fences are usually close to the driving lanes. At high speeds the perception of detail is limited to shape and color. As speeds decrease around intersections or on urban streets surface texture and detail become more apparent.

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Design Coordination

To achieve the aesthetic goals along a specific highway the design of barriers, guard beams, and fences should be visually coordinated with other design elements. Basic design tools that will assist in blending concrete traffic barriers, metal guard beams, and pedestrian control fences into the visual context of the highway are as follows:

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  • Select barriers to blend or contrast with the background.
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    • Colors that contrast with the surroundings will be more prominent visually. For guard beams and concrete traffic barriers placed between traffic lanes, sharp contrast will improve visibility. Colors similar to the pavement will decrease depth perception.
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    • Colors that have the same value as the surroundings will blend in. For barriers placed between the traffic lanes and adjacent properties it is often desirable to blend the barriers and allow the background views to be more dominant.
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  • Use textured forms for concrete traffic barriers to establish regional themes.
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    • The smooth, strong line of these elements can add definition and clarity to the roadway, reducing the visual complexity of the roadway. The introduction of colors or textures can heighten the barrier’s ability to serve as a unifying visual feature through long distances of corridor, and tie widely separated features together (see Figure 4-33). Color may be added in the form of stains and textures or patterns may be added during the manufacturing process.
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    • Special themes can be developed in the patterns used on traffic barriers to avoid the look of a universal interstate highway. The barriers designed for El Paso, for example, reflect the patterns and culture of the mountainous desert southwest.
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  • Add pedestrian control fencing.
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    • Utilize vinyl coated chain link fabric to take advantage of longer life and more color options.
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    • Galvanized chain-link fabric exposed to the pollutants associated with highways will rust very early. This is visually objectionable and may stain supporting structures.
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