DIVERSE PRODUCTIVE ROADSIDES: ECOLOGICALLY INTEGRATING AGRICULTURE INTO OUR HIGHWAY SYSTEM

Mary E. Lydecker, Richard T. T. Forman

Abstract


The extensive under-used area of roadsides along public highways could readily provide valuable
environmental, economic, and cultural benefits for society. Furthermore, local food sources are an increasing
priority as energy and environmental costs of long-distance transport increase. This article highlights the
central goals and principles for introducing food production in roadsides. Seven types of roadside cultivation
are considered: market vegetables, grain, fodder, orchard, biofuel, compost, and livestock. Principles important
for incorporating food production into roadsides include: location relative to adjacent land uses; wildlife
movement and biodiversity; site topography and hydrology; and arrangement of crops based on roadside
pollutant concentrations. Potential problems and their solutions are examined, such as: a swale and remediation
system for stormwater and aerial pollutants; a banded vegetation pattern with inedible crops close to the road
and edible crops farther from the road; and strategically locating trees to narrow the perceived highway width
for enhanced driver safety. Major benefits of roadside production include providing additional farmland for
farmers, vegetation design that facilitates wildlife movement and reduces the effects of habitat fragmentation,
a cultural symbol of productivity in a highly visible landscape, local food for markets and eateries, carbon
sequestration, and multi-use right-of-way biodiversity and landscape management. A case study uses the goals
and principles pinpointed to outline a specific design strategy for inserting diverse agriculture along 30km of
highway (MA I-495) outside Boston, Massachusetts (USA). Now, widespread designs and pilot projects are
needed to initiate the next generation of our roadsides, where public appreciation for local food production,
multiple uses of infrastructure, and the landscape's wildlife heritage become the norm.


Keywords


Right-of-way; cultivation; landscape; wildlife; culture

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