P80311Medians are nice on the widest of boulevards. They break up the expansiveness of otherwise contiguous lanes. They make a four lane boulevard seem more like a pair of two lane roadways. Berms and other obstacles within medians limit the potential for head on collisions with traffic from opposite sides of the medians. Trees shade and cool some of the pavement when the weather gets warm. Besides all that, medians that are modestly landscaped simply look nice.

Notice that I said ‘modestly’ landscaped. There really is no need to get carried away with landscapes in medians. No one is really looking too closely at them anyway. People are driving past them, and really should be paying more attention to the road ahead rather than what is blooming to the side. Even passengers who are not driving probably are not seeing much of what goes into median landscapes. Color in such landscapes is nice; but no one cares if the color is provided by plants that are expensive and consumptive to maintain, or plants that can more or less survive on their own. It other words, resources should not be wasted on medians. Expensive and consumptive public landscapes should be installed only in parks or other places where they can be seen and appreciated.

Then there are those who must perform the maintenance. It is not safe for them. It will of course be necessary for crews to go out to maintain medians sometimes, and sometimes they might need to block a lane to do what needs to be done; but they should be out there as little possible. They should not be out there deadheading roses, pruning wisteria or planting petunias. They certainly should not be mowing lawns that no one can use! High maintenance features, like formal hedges, fountains, espaliers, trellises, arbors and beds of seasonal annuals, have no business out in medians! Such features require too much attention from those who must interact with traffic to attend to the maintenance.

Turf uses too much water anyway. It is useful in parks and athletic fields, but should be limited to situations where it can actually be useful for something. It is not useful in medians.

Trees are perhaps the best features of median landscapes, but even they are often not well thought out. They should be proportionate to the roadways that the get installed into, and get high enough for adequate clearance above truck traffic. Vertical clearance is not important if small trees can fit between the curbs of wide medians, but such wide medians should probably be outfitted with larger and taller trees. Trees in medians should exhibit complaisant roots that are less likely to damage curbs and pavement.

Landscape design takes serious work; and there is a lot to consider when designing landscapes for medians.

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8 thoughts on “Median Landscapes

  1. The structure in your photo looks a bit distracting for a median. I drove by a new one yesterday, with trees. The substrate was of rocks in 2 colors, in a simple pattern. It won’t take much maintenance, except for the trees, and was quite attractive.

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    1. Most are attractive. The problem is that so many are overdone. The trellises in the picture used to be outfitted with wisteria, which took a lot of maintenance. Parks in the area do not get that sort of attention. All the lumber and labor that went into building the miles of trellises in the medians could have been used to construct something useful in a park.

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  2. The city where I live installed median planters a couple years ago and then went and filled them with all kinds of plants. There are regular lane closing to maintain the plantings, mostly flowering plants and the plants are removed when they finish blooming. There are many that require regular watering and a sprinkler system was installed in many of the medians which necessitated tapping into the city water, having spigots with valves, and other methods of connecting the sprinklers to the water and, yes, more regular lane closings in both directions so that a four lane, very busy street effectively became a bottlenecked two lane street with long lines of traffic because of the closed lanes. There was a considerable amount of political clout involved and the contracts for the maintaining those medians were very lucrative. In the couple years they have been there the plantings have been left dead or dying, which looks lousy or there are lane closures at least once a week which are not scheduled for low traffic times of day. It has reached a point where it would have been far preferable to just build a wall and be done with it.

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    1. That happens more often than we want to know. I have been asked to approve plans for one of the municipalities here, but would not do so because of all the plant material that was involved. The planning commission narrowed down the questions to ask me only if the trees would damage the curbs. I told them that they would not, so they took that as my approval. Meanwhile, there are not enough resources for parks.

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      1. I think the parks should have priority over the medians. The city also built a park where a building once stood (it burned down and two firefighters died during the fire – the park honors them). This park has a small memorial to the two firefighters, otherwise is just a big concrete paved area with almost no plantings, which is very hot in summer and no one uses it because there is no place to sit and no reason to sit there as it is unattractive. It might have made more sense if there was a good deal of foot traffic from one store to another, but there isn’t.

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      2. Precisely. These things must be prioritized. Parks get used. Medians do not. Parks are worth maintaining because they get used. Medians are not worth wasting resources on. One of my former professors once said about hedges in front of walls, “It would be easier to paint the wall green.” That applies to medians. Landscapes are nice, but the plant material out there should be as low maintenance as possible. When I suggested oleanders (back before they started dying off), I was told that they are toxic. Seriously. Anyone who would get sickened by the oleanders would be dead from being hit by a speeding car before getting that far.

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