PS 29-174 - Seeing roadside ecology: A research framework examining urban-rural roadside management practices and the visual appearance of roadside vegetation

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Valerie Friedmann, Landscape Architecture, Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Recent federal proposals, such as the FAST Act and Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment Pollinator Protection Act, support measures to enhance ecological performance in highway rights-of-way. As such, DOTs, research institutions, and advocacy groups are expressing more interest in the ecological potential of these landscapes.

The literature on roadside ecology supports the crucial role of vegetation to increase ecological functionality along roadsides. However, management operations such as frequent mowing, fueled by the public preference for the appearance of “maintained” (i.e. mown) vegetation, are contrary to roadside ecological enhancement.

The conflict between (a) current roadside mowing operations and public expectations, and (b) the significant functional advantages of roadside vegetation thus presents a unique research and design challenge.


  • What are the appropriate documentation and communication tools needed to simultaneously examine the effects of urban-rural roadside management practices on the visual appearance of roadside vegetation?

This poster outlines the methodology for mapping quantitative geospatial data and documenting the aesthetic qualities of roadside plants. Documentation methods include time-lapse filming of roadside conditions with a car-mounted GoPro HERO4 and the georeferenced photography of roadside specimens. The poster also describes the software workflow used to sync quantitative and qualitative information using ArcGIS 10.3, Google Earth Pro, and the animation software Adobe After Effects.


The research team trialed methods for mapping, documenting, and compiling geospatial data and video footage of roadside landscapes along state highways between Auburn and Mobile, Alabama. The study resulted in a four-minute animated diagram which syncs geospatial data with time lapse footage of the continuous roadside condition along the 270-mile route. The resulting diagrammatic and cinematic representation confirms the connection between the urban-rural location and presence and appearance of roadside vegetation.

The animated diagram reveals the complexities of roadside vegetation patterns in a manner that is accessible to various stakeholder groups, and it is a useful exhibit for community outreach and education. For those interested in seeking a multivalent understanding of existing roadside conditions, visualizing the sum total impact of the various data sets on roadside appearance can be a useful framework for decision support.

When prioritizing road segments for ecological enhancement projects, it is necessary to address the appearance of these highly visible public landscapes. Finding the right tools to comprehensively communicate the complexity and ecological potential of roadside landscapes may dissolve barriers to the widespread adoption of roadside practices that promote ecologically beneficial roadside vegetation.