CROSSINGS: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, by Ben Goldfarb
When my seventh grader walks to school from our home in the Bronx, he must cross the Henry Hudson Parkway (N.Y. 9A) over an ugly pedestrian bridge. To access the green space of Van Cortlandt Park a few blocks to the northeast, he must navigate an intimidating six lanes of traffic. I trust my kid to look both ways, but I don’t trust the drivers to notice him. I worry over the city’s roadways, the health consequences of their foul breath, their nonstop noise and the devastation they lay — by cruel intent — upon majority Black and brown neighborhoods like ours.
“Crossings,” by the environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb, is a fascinating and compassionate look at the repercussions of roads, inviting us to rethink their design through the relatively new science of road ecology. Roads, Goldfarb writes, are “not merely a symptom of civilization, but a distinct disease.” He describes road ecology, the study of the impact of roads on plants and animals, as “empathy manifested as science.”
The main prognosis of the discipline is that roads are “agents of chaos” that deform the earth at all scales. About 40 million miles of roadway wrap the earth, from the illegal logging routes that spider-web the Amazon to the Pan-American Highway that crosses the continent. The United States hosts six and a half million of those miles, the world’s longest road network. “Our midcentury automotive revolution spawned not only highways but also parking lots, driveways, suburbs, pipelines, gas stations, carwashes, drive-throughs, tire shops and strip malls,” Goldfarb writes, “a totalizing ecosystem engineered for its dominant organism, the car.”
In the 1960s, just 3 percent of land-dwelling mammals died on North American roads. By 2017, that toll had gone up fourfold. About a hundred people and one million wild animals are killed by cars every day in the United States alone. Many species, reduced to roadkill, face extinction.