How Wildlife Can Benefit from Highways

While high-traffic areas can pose a threat to grizzlies, less traveled routes offer conservation benefits. / image: NPS/Eric Johnston via Flickr

This article was originally published on May 19, 2017 by Ensia Media Group. The article was written by Kaitlin Stack Whitney (@KStackWhitney) and was titled How Grizzlies, Monarchs and Even Fish can Benefit from U.S. Highways. Republished with permission.

–ASLA Transportation PPN Leadership Team

Roads often present peril for wildlife—but with good planning, they can benefit animals instead.

Late last August, armed with a sweep net and identification guides, Sarah Piecuch was looking for butterflies. She trudged through waist-deep grasses, trying to keep her footing steady while tallying those she found fluttering through the sky or perched on nearby flowers.

But Piecuch isn’t an entomologist, and she wasn’t walking in a pristine meadow. Rather, she’s a wildlife biologist for the New York State Department of Transportation, and she was surveying the land beside busy highways in hopes of learning what kind of management can make these long, thin strips of habitat most beneficial for pollinators. Her work is just one of a number of projects across the country aimed at using the space along interstate highways to help wildlife.

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Musical Roadway in New Mexico

Highway, Death Valley / image: tsaiproject via Flickr

Who doesn’t love to drive down the highway listening to music, especially patriotic music around the 4th of July? Well, the folks at the New Mexico Department of Transportation are helping motorists enjoy this pastime by incorporating music into the road! National Geographic’s show Crowd Control initiated the project (with funding from Allstate Insurance) to help drivers focus on the road and drive the speed limit.

The installation is similar to rumble strips, the pavement grooves that alert drivers when they are drifting out of the drive lanes and onto the roadway shoulder. However, NM DOT’s musical highway has pavement grooves placed within the drive lanes. Vehicle tires emit a sound as they pass over the grooves. This sound varies in pitch according to the groove spacing. The correct sequence of grooves and spacing cause the vehicle’s tires to emit sounds that mimic a song, in this case, a famous, well-known, patriotic song, “America the Beautiful.”

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TRB Committee on Landscape and Environmental Design Mid-Year Meeting

Roundabouts - Routes 82 and 85 in Salem, CT / image: Connecticut Department of Transportation
Roundabouts – Routes 82 and 85 in Salem, CT / image: Connecticut Department of Transportation

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Landscape and Environmental Design (AFB40) is holding their mid-year meeting in Hartford, Connecticut August 6th through the 9th. The meeting’s theme, Retro-fitting for Resilience, focuses on the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s (CT DOT) efforts to restore the state’s transportation infrastructure. The subject matter has been deemed appropriate for continuing education hours for landscape architects licensed to practice in Connecticut. Refer to the conference website for additional information.

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Creating Pollinator Habitat Along Roadsides

Winslow Way, Bainbridge Island, WA / image: Alexandra Hay

Below, you’ll find a re-post from Entomology Today of “Study Finds Bees Can Have Their Wildflowers and Almonds, Too” by Josh Lancette—a timely subject, with Pollinator Week later this month and an ASLA Online Learning webinar on the topic, Creating Pollinator Habitat Along Roadsides, coming up on June 14 hosted by the Transportation PPN.

The post discusses the use of wildflower planting strips adjacent to almond orchards in California. While at first blush it might appear that this practice has little to do with transportation, keep in mind that millions of miles of rural roadways are adjacent or proximate to agricultural fields. Furthermore, Section 130 of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA) added a requirement that native wildflower seeds or seedlings or both be planted as part of any landscaping project undertaken on the federal-aid highway system. This requirement is mandatory and applies only to federal funded landscaping projects. One quarter to one percent of funds used for landscaping projects must be used to plant native wildflowers.

Other federal initiatives promoting the use of native wildflower plantings exist. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines a field border as a “strip of permanent vegetation established at the edge or around the perimeter of an agricultural field.” The practice is used, among other things, to provide pollinator habitat and to manage agricultural pest populations. Field borders assist with agricultural pest management by providing habitat to beneficial organisms or as a place for agricultural pests to congregate. When field borders are designed for pollinator habitat, they have been shown to facilitate pollination services to agricultural crops. A properly designed field border provides nectar and pollen sources for pollinators when the target crops are not in bloom. This practice is currently being used in Michigan, where “flowering plant strips” increase crop productivity through the support of beneficial insects and pollinators.

Landscape architects engaged in planting roadside vegetation must be thoughtful. Selecting plant material so the crops are not harmed (e.g. plum pox virus, which attacks stone crops) but are benefited should be an integral part of the planting program.

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FHWA’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Agenda

ASLA 2010 Professional Analysis & Planning Honor Award. Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) Master Plan / image: Interface Studio LLC

In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published the Strategic Agenda for Pedestrians and Bicycle Transportation. The report updates DOT’s 1994 National Bicycling and Walking Study and informs FHWA’s focus for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure for the next three to five years. The Strategic Agenda reinforces FHWA’s commitment to innovate on pedestrian and bicycle transportation issues by encouraging multimodal transportation options that are practical, safe, and efficient.

The Strategic Agenda was developed by US DOT practitioners and experts, with assistance from a Technical Working Group (TWG), pedestrian and bicycle practitioners, and the public. Intensive public involvement and research were used to develop the Agenda’s “core areas of focus, key consideration issues, opportunities and potential actions.” The Strategic Agenda identifies two main pedestrian and bicycle goals being pursued by FHWA:

  • To achieve an 80% reduction in pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and serious injuries in 15 years and zero pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and serious injuries in the next 20 to 30 years.
  • To increase the percentage of short trips represented by bicycling and walking to 30% by the year 2025. Short trips are defined as trips of 5 miles or less for bicyclists and 1 mile or less for pedestrians.

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#iAdvocate: Be an Advocate for Transportation

ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Portland Mall Revitalization, ZGF Architects LLP / image: ZGF Architects LLP

The future of federal transportation and transit funding has many of us concerned as we hear how legislative priorities are taking shape in the Capitol. With this uncertainty, the need for landscape architects to advocate for less-costly, green infrastructure solutions and stable transportation funding that serves community needs is greater than ever before. In this post, and in tandem with Advocacy Day this week, we’re focusing on ASLA’s advocacy efforts and encouraging our members to bring their voices to the transportation priorities conversation.

ASLA’s 2017 Advocacy Agenda is taking shape. On March 9, ASLA released their top U.S. infrastructure recommendations: Landscape Architects Leading Community Infrastructure Design and Development. The report makes recommendations for supporting active transportation programs, expanding and increasing funding for the TIGER program, and investing in transit and transit-oriented development.

On March 17, ASLA released their statement on President Trump’s proposed budget and called out the dramatic cuts to many of the federal programs and resources that strengthen our nation’s infrastructure and economic development. ASLA will continue to work with legislators as the budget process unfolds and will carry forward a strong advocacy agenda.

How can you as a member advocate for transportation funding and sound infrastructure solutions? If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for the ASLA iAdvocate Network so that you can support the Society’s efforts to impact public policy at national, state and local levels. Once you sign up, email alerts are delivered to your inbox on issues important to landscape architecture that are being debated by lawmakers. With a few clicks, you can send a message to your Senators and Representative and make your voice a part of ASLA’s advocacy efforts.

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Net Zero Rights of Way?!

Lincoln Street MAX Station, with photovoltaic cells on shelter roofs image: ©2015 Bruce Forster Photography / Trimet
Lincoln Street MAX Station, with photovoltaic cells on shelter roofs
image: ©2015 Bruce Forster Photography / Trimet

Landscape Architects Can Break New Policy Ground with Our Legislators

Roxanne Blackwell, ASLA’s Director of Federal Government Affairs, presented a dynamite national legislative update to the ASLA Transportation Professional Practice Network (PPN) at the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting in New Orleans. She reinforced that the input the profession provides to legislators is relevant, robust, broad, and has tremendous policy impact.

One of the most exciting parts of Roxanne’s report was what legislators asked of us: can we, as landscape architects, shape a federal policy for net zero roadways?

Many of us are familiar with the concept of net zero, especially in relation to buildings. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) continues to collaboratively advance net zero building, campus and neighborhood policy, standards, and resources and has defined a net zero energy building as follows: An energy-efficient building where, on a source energy basis, the actual annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported energy. Put another way, this means a building that produces as much energy as it uses on an annual basis from renewable sources. Further details are available in a September 16, 2015 article available on the DOE website.

This same Net Zero approach appears to be highly adaptable to public rights-of-way, and we as a profession can help make the case.

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Transportation at the Annual Meeting

Canal Street in New Orleans image: Alexandra Hay
Canal Street in New Orleans
image: Alexandra Hay

PPN Live in New Orleans: Network. Learn. Have fun!

The ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO is the place to connect with your Professional Practice Network (PPN) peers in person. If you’re coming to New Orleans, please join us for any or all of our events on the EXPO floor on Sunday, October 23:

PPN Live Session: Sunday, October 23, 9:15-10:00 AM, Jackson Square Meeting Room

The Transportation PPN Leadership Team will share updates on our work and highlight opportunities for you to share your expertise and expand your network through ASLA. In addition, Roxanne Blackwell, ASLA’s Director of Federal Government Affairs, will present the latest news on federal transportation legislation and advocacy. Have an idea for an education session for the 2017 Annual Meeting? We’ll connect PPN members with each other to plan for next year in Los Angeles. For one panel that teamed up last year after meeting in Chicago, it led to a successful education session proposal to present in New Orleans!

Network and Learn at the ASLA EXPO – Transportation Tour: Sunday, October 23, 1:00-2:00 PM, starting from PPN Live

Meet with Transportation PPN members and product exhibitors in a show floor tour that will provide 1.0 PDH (LA CES/non-HSW). The tour will offer the opportunity to learn about new and improved products and services for transportation-related projects. We’ve got a great lineup that includes Victor Stanley, Duo-Gard Industries, HessAmerica, and Custom Rock FormLiner. Sign up online to join us on the tour!

EXPO Reception featuring the PPNs: Sunday, October 23, 4:30 – 6:00 PM

Network with your peers at the EXPO Reception featuring the PPNs. It’s now free to all registered annual meeting attendees, and non-PPN members are welcome to attend. Be sure to stop by to get your PPN pin!

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When Did Scenic Quality Stop Mattering?

Figure 1: Broadway Boulevard and Wilmot Road in a busy commercial area of central Tucson, AZ. View to Rincon Mountains. image: Ellen Alster
Figure 1: Broadway Boulevard and Wilmot Road in a busy commercial area of Tucson, AZ. View to Rincon Mountains.
image: Ellen Alster

The Sonoran Desert area in and surrounding Tucson, Arizona has stunningly unique scenery: vivid bright blue skies, mountains that continually change hue depending on the light, and forests of saguaros that punctuate the horizon. Four mountain ranges surround the city: the Santa Catalinas to the north, the Tucson Mountains to the west, the Santa Ritas to the South, and the Rincon Mountains to the east. Even on Tucson’s most mundane streets, the mountains embrace the city, framing it on all sides. The spectacular native landscape should elicit the highest aspirations for the built environment. Yet it seems as if both leadership and citizenry have become numb to the beauty enveloping them, feeling powerless to take action against the changes occurring.

Southern Arizona’s signature skyline of saguaro cacti silhouettes is rapidly being usurped by the dark rusted steel poles newly dominating the horizon. They loom over urban, suburban, and rural landscapes as the electrical grid is replaced and upgraded (see figure 2).

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Bridge Park as Community Gateway

Rendering of the planned 11th Street Bridge Park, in Washington DC image: courtesy of OMA and OLIN
Rendering of the planned 11th Street Bridge Park, in Washington DC
image: courtesy of OMA and OLIN

A multi-million dollar elevated park spanning the Anacostia River is planned to link neighborhoods in the District of Columbia. This project will use existing infrastructure to support a new landmark called the 11th Street Bridge Park.

Washington DC, our Nation’s Capital, is a city of around 650,000 people, 76,000 of whom live within two miles of this project. This city is located at the convergence of two large rivers: the Anacostia and the Potomac. The Potomac River serves as the southwestern border, with the Anacostia River cutting the District in two. Bridges over the Anacostia River have existed for over two hundred years. At this location six bridges have existed, but none were dedicated to pedestrians.

Creating pedestrian bridges is not revolutionary. In fact, pedestrian bridges are being planned all over the country, like the South Side Lake Shore Drive pedestrian bridges in Chicago. This project will connect the Bronzeville neighborhood to the lakefront, linking this community with its adjacent waterfront.

The plan for the 11th Street Bridge Park is not just another pedestrian bridge, but an elevated park and more. The plan is to create a larger relative of the existing Potomac River Waterfront Park, located in Maryland, which spans I-95, the busiest interstate in the United States. This park’s design was led by Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, Inc. (JMT) and was completed in June 2009. More information about the park’s design can be found on JMT’s Riverfront Park Design webpage. The Riverfront Park is similar to the 11th Street Bridge Park in that they will both be elevated and connect pedestrian networks, but that is where their similarities end.

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Call for Participation

A wildflower plot with corn poppies and lanceleaf coreopsis on Interstate 20 in Georgia image: Davie Biagi
A wildflower plot with corn poppies and lanceleaf coreopsis on Interstate 20 in Georgia
image: Davie Biagi

We want to meet you!

“Filling potholes doesn’t ‘fix’ our transportation system, but simply paves over a system of highways designed for a 20th century California,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, policy director of the California Bicycle Coalition, in a September 1 op ed piece in The Sacramento Bee. As transportation systems all across America transition from the concrete paved, car-oriented culture of the past, you are part of this exciting transformation! Join fellow Landscape Architecture and Transportation Professional Practice Network (LAT PPN) members in discussions of current issues at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago this November.

Show us who you are! We invite you to participate: 

  1. Send us a proposal for a short talk about an issue concerning you for the Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN meeting. Presentations can be about anything related to transportation, from complete streets and multi-modal transportation planning to green streets, erosion control, and ecological restoration. Submit a title, short summary paragraph, and brief outline for your slides (one to two words per slide) to Ellen Barth Alster at ellen.alster@pima.gov. Proposals are due by October 1, 2015.
  2. Send us 1-3 images about yourself and the work you do. Everyone attending the Annual Meeting has a voice that should be heard and we want to know more about you, our fellow PPN members. The images can be about anything: your favorite place, your daily commute, or your most frustrating transportation design challenge. Please send images (as JPEG files) by October 30, 2015 to the LAT PPN leadership team.

The Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN meeting will take place on Saturday, November 7 at 9:15 AM. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago!

We welcome all questions and comments. Please contact Ellen Barth Alster (ellen.alster@pima.gov), LAT PPN Co-Chair, or Davie Biagi (davie@landscapeconsultantshq.com), LAT PPN Officer.

by the ASLA Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN Leadership Team

Transit Deserts: Failing to Provide Access

A student "hacking" in Morgan Park, North East Baltimore, Maryland image: Diane Jones Allen, 2013
A student “hacking” in Morgan Park, North East Baltimore, Maryland
image: Diane Jones Allen, 2013

The story of Detroit resident James Robertson, who, due to patchy bus service, walked 21 miles as part of his daily commute to get to a factory job 23 miles away in the suburbs where he earned $10.55 an hour, captured the public imagination in February 2015 when his story was publicized. It generated a crowdsourcing response of over $350,000, and a local Ford dealer’s donation of an automobile. While the outpouring of generosity solved one man’s transportation issues, it failed to provide for the rest of the fragmented Detroit metropolitan region, or other regions facing similar issues, crippled by suburbs that intentionally choose to opt out of regional bus service. While Baltimore is comparably better served by public transit than other metropolitan regions, its African American residents have provided their own highly effective, yet illegal, answer to transit deficiencies: hacking. Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, discusses these issues and offers a response in her dissertation for Morgan State University in 2014. She is currently furthering this topic in a book about transit deserts, race, and suburban form. Portions of her dissertation and future book are summarized and excerpted below.
–Ellen Barth Alster, ASLA, Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN Chair

Within the past five decades, public transit-dependent and urban-oriented populations have been relocated or shifted to outer-urban, auto-oriented neighborhoods at the same rates that African-Americans moved to northern cities from southern rural communities during the preceding five decades of the Great Migration. These outer-urban areas have not offered adequate public transit to support economically viable employment, nor have they provided access to social and cultural networks, resulting from the suburban and low density built forms which favor the automobile. These areas are called “Transit Deserts,” a term first used in 2007 by Professor David Hulchanski from the University of Toronto. This topic is closely related to the “Food Desert” discourse, tying geographic form, neighborhood income, and public and private policies into a triangular model that drives an ever increasing number of American citizens into poverty through a narrowing of access to quality food or transportation.

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Stormwater Infrastructure & Streetscapes

Bainbridge Island, WA image: SvR Design Company
Winslow Way streetscape, Bainbridge Island, WA
image: design and photo by SvR Design Company

The article below, written by Professional Engineer Nathan Polanski of SvR Design Company, is based on a presentation Nathan gave to the Landscape and Environmental Design Committee of the Transportation Research Board at that organization’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC this January.
—Craig Churchward and Wendy Miller, Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN Co-Chairs

Integrating Green Stormwater Infrastructure into the Streetscape

Across the country, local governments are integrating green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) into the streetscape to manage urban stormwater runoff. More frequently implemented to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs), streetside GSI also treats polluted runoff that includes oil, heavy metals, and carcinogens to help protect the quality of local water bodies. Often overlooked, however, is the vital role that GSI can play in creating a thriving, pedestrian-friendly streetscape by providing physical buffers, reducing imperviousness, increasing opportunities for tree canopy, mitigating heat island effect, and promoting traffic calming.

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Bike Maps

image: City of Austin
image: City of Austin

Luckily I have had the pleasure of living in a few cities that find bicycle commuting important and recognize the best way to get people out of their cars and onto a bicycle is to make that step a bit less frightening.  Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC are just a few cities that have taken steps to add bike lanes to their streets and provide maps of these bicycle-friendly streets to residents and visitors.

Usually these map legends point out bike trails, on-street bike lanes, and streets that are recommended for bicycling without marked lanes.  Though helpful for the seasoned bicycle commuter, a first timer may not be ready to venture out just yet.

The city of Austin is taking this to the next step and has developed a mapping system that “prioritizes rider comfort in its symbology.”  The color-coded bike network is “keyed to the real-world experience a person can expect when cycling on any given street.”

Read more about the city of Austin’s bike map on The Atlantic Cities: “Bike Maps That Give Riders the Info They Actually Need” by Sarah Goodyear.

by Deborah Steinberg, ASLA Professional Practice Coordinator

Bicycling in Spain: Is there a relation to Land Use?

Bikes share a transitway in Seville
image: Stan Clauson

This article could easily be written by a member of the International or Transportation PPNs, but the bicycle is becoming increasingly important in Land Use, so it is offered here to spark a discussion about the importance of alternate transportation in community design.

Living in Aspen, Colorado, cycling has become a part of our lifestyle.  Whether it is mountain or road biking, trails and facilities exist to encourage even the most timid into this healthy recreation.  In town, year-round cyclists, some with studded snow tires, regularly use cycling to get to work and run errands.  So, it seemed natural in planning a trip to Spain (in a country where the famed Vuelta de España race ranks among the top three cycling events worldwide), to see what is happening with respect to cycling.  Our trip therefore included a week of cycling through Andalucia as well as visits to Madrid and Seville, two cities that have gone far to develop car-free pedestrian zones.  But how well do they accommodate cycling as an alternative mode of transportation and means of recreation?  It turns out that these cities could not be more different in this respect, something that no doubt reflects the divergence among U.S. cities as well.  In the countryside, some significant efforts are made for cycling safety on rural roads, and rails-to-trails is part of the program.

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Bicycle Connectivity: A New Perspective

Cyclists enjoying the William C. O’Neill (South County) Bike Path, Rhode Island
image: State of Rhode Island Department of Transportation

Moving Beyond the Network

You could say that the author has some familiarity with the subject of bicycle connectivity; over the course of finishing his MLA degree at the University of Oregon, he pedaled over 6,500 miles in and around the city of Eugene.  The city is already well known for its bicycle friendly environment, but this did not stop the Colorado native from questioning how it can be made even better. His hope is to make cities and communities more hospitable places by creating innovative approaches to bicycle connectivity.  The author’s graduate research explores current thought on the subject then details a new, holistic approach to that goal.

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Transportation Meeting and Education Sessions

SR 179 through Sedona's Red Rock Country
SR 179 through Sedona’s Red Rock Country
image: Royal Enfield

Below is a list of some of the sessions at the Annual Meeting that may be of interest to landscape architects practicing transportation planning and design.

We also hope to see you at the Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN meeting on Sunday, September 30th from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. in the EXPO.   We will review the results of our PPN membership survey and develop an action plan to address our three most important issues.  Come learn how you can participate in The Field and join the discussion on topics of interest to our members on LinkedIn.

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Identity, Streetscapes and Regional Rail in Taipei, Taiwan

Looking out the window while riding the Taipei Metro Rail
Looking out the window while riding the Taipei Metro Rail
image: Sarah Kathleen Peck

In less than 30 years, Taipei, Taiwan has undergone significant transformation in its cultural identity, its urban design, and its regional transportation systems. Taipei, the largest city of Taiwan, lies on the Danshui River 25 kilometers across the Taiwan Strait from China. Taipei City has approximately 2.6 million residents, and the metropolitan region has just shy of 7 million people. While Taipei is not the largest city in the world by any stretch of the imagination, the city is one of the most densely packed, due to the natural hilly topography and limited areas upon which to build city structures.

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Balancing and integrating safe access and habitat protection – the Safe Trestle competition

The Wave Team Safe Trestles Phase Two
The Wave Team Safe Trestles Phase Two
image: Architecture for Humanity

Architecture for Humanity is a nonprofit organization with the mission of building a more sustainable future through the power of professional design. Often using competitions as a platform for innovative ideas and projects AFH launched its first landscape based competition earlier this year ‘ Safe Trestle’.

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