Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Oslo’s new “bee highway” is just one part of an emerging trend in highway infrastructure.
Oslo has taken a decidedly adorable stand in the battle to save pollinators, with its new “bee highway.” Homeowners, businesses, and local officials have rallied to support the endangered insects by planting local flowering plants in yards, planters, parks, and on rooftops. Some spots are formal constructions, offering beehives or bee “hotels,” while others are simple gardens.
“The idea is to create a route through the city with enough feeding stations for the bumblebees all the way,” one member of the Oslo Garden Society told local press in May. “Enough food will also help the bumblebees withstand man-made environmental stress better.”
There doesn’t seem to be a way of tracking whether the bees in Oslo are indeed using the waystations to enter and exit the city, as the “highway” moniker implies. But the project does tie into an increasingly popular, if not entirely new, approach to protecting larger animals passing through built environments: wildlife crossings. Starting in the 1950s, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and other European countries have built bridges, culverts, and underpasses designed specially for animals so they can safely traverse busy human highways.
Often shaped and planted to blend with the surrounding natural habitat, wildlife crossings have more recently taken off in North America. Banff National Park is cut through by the bustling Trans-Canada Highway, spelling mortal danger for the bears, elk, moose and dozens of over mammals around. Between 1996 and 2013, park officials built six wildlife overpasses and 38 underpasses, which have supported more than 140,000 documented wildlife crossings. In the U.S., Montana, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and other states now have bridges and tunnels for their own endemic species. In Los Angeles last summer, the famed mountain lion P-22 ignited talks of building a crossing over one of the most jam-packed freeways in the country.
Special pathways aren’t complete solutions to protecting animals from the threats of human development, however. Oslo’s “bee highway,” for one, isn’t nearly enough, from a government-policy standpoint, to combat the severe decline of pollinators, as Norwegian scientists have pointed out. (Worldwide, hundreds of species are in danger of extinction, leaving the human food supply increasingly vulnerable.) Long-term land-use and agricultural plans—including limiting the use of pesticides and restoring large swathes of habitat—are critical to truly help humanity’s embattled buzzing friends.
But wildlife crossings have been proven to reduce road fatalities at a significant rate. Spanning some of the world’s busiest highways, they are striking reminders of how human structures can break apart natural habitats—and how they can rebuild them.
Below are a few of our favorite crossings (and one sanctuary) from around the world.