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Summary
  • A median on the road is the physical barrier that stands between opposing lanes of traffic. Today, it’s typically made of concrete or asphalt curbs, but in the past, it used to be made of rocks or dirt.
  • There are different types of medians, such as raised medians, depressed medians, landscaped medians, and Jersey barriers.
  • As a road divider, a median comes with a lot of benefits. It helps prevent collisions, restricts turns, and improves traffic flow.

Did you know around 30% of cross-median crashes result in fatalities and serious injuries? Cross-median crashes happen when a driver crosses the median and collides with another car traveling in the opposite direction. To prevent these collisions from happening, median barriers are installed on the road.

What Is a Median on the Road?

A median is something you probably see every time you drive through highways. It’s the physical barrier that stands between opposing lanes of traffic. Today, most medians are made of concrete or asphalt curbs, but they used to be nothing more than a pile of rocks or a patch of dirt that separated traffic lanes. You’ll find some medians now even have trees, bushes, and traffic signs in them.

Traffic islands on the road, median strips, and median divider islands are other common names for medians.

What Are the Different Road Median Types?

You can find all sorts of medians on the road, with some of them more common than the others. Here are some of the different types of medians:

Raised Medians

This is the most common type of median in the US. Also known as concrete barrier medians, raised medians are barriers made of concrete that are a few feet above the road level. They’re best suited for high-speed roads that cater to a high volume of traffic.

Depressed Medians

Unlike raised medians, depressed medians are lower than the road level. They’re mostly used by pedestrians who need to cross the road. While they provide enough safety for those who need to wait before crossing the street, depressed medians aren’t the most effective when it comes to preventing collisions.

Landscaped Medians

This type of median is all about bringing greenery back into urban and suburban streets. Landscaped medians are filled with flower beds, shrubs, and trees that help filter the headlights of vehicles.

Jersey Barriers

Similar to raised median barriers, Jersey barriers are also made of concrete. However, they’re precast units that are typically assembled onsite, making them much more cost-effective. Jersey barriers are also easier to install and remove, but this also makes them less effective than raised barriers at preventing accidents.

Cable Median Barriers

Lightweight and easy to install, cable median barriers are high-tension steel cables that are attached to posts. They’re less expensive than concrete barriers, but they aren’t the best at preventing head-on collisions.

Painted Medians

This type of median is what you’ll typically find on low-volume roads or neighborhood streets. As its name suggests, painted medians are lines painted in the middle of the road to separate opposing traffic lanes. It doesn’t do much to prevent crossover accidents, but it does offer some separation at least.

Medians With Public Transportation Lines

You can also find medians that accommodate public transportation systems, such as rapid transit lines or light rails. For example, some of the Chicago “L” train’s red and blue lines run on the medians of Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Dan Ryan roads.

What Are the Dimensions of a Median on the Road?

The width of medians varies depending on the type of road they’re for and the surrounding area’s specific needs. For example, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) suggests that a median on a highway has to be at least 30 feet wide. Meanwhile, a median on a high-speed road should at least be 60 feet wide or more.

What Are the Benefits of Medians?

Contrary to popular belief, medians aren’t just road dividers. They also come with a handful of benefits. Here are a few examples: 

Prevent Collisions

Medians act as physical barriers that separate opposing traffic lanes. This helps prevent head-on collisions, especially on high-speed highways.

Restrict Turns

Medians also restrict drivers from turning across oncoming traffic, reducing the chances of accidents.

Improve Traffic Flow

With physical barriers blocking them, drivers can’t make any illegal turns anymore. They’ll have to follow the rules, including where they can safely merge with the next traffic lane. This promotes better traffic flow for both sides of traffic.

Keep Pedestrians and Cyclists Safe

On neighborhood streets, medians typically have a pedestrian refuge island. It’s a small area in the median where pedestrians and cyclists can wait until they can cross the road.

Add Beauty and Greenery to Highways

Landscaped medians can add color back to an otherwise boring highway with the help of flowers, trees, and other decorative ornaments.

Reduce Noise and Air Pollution

Highway medians also provide a physical barrier that blocks off the noise and emissions of vehicles on the road. This is especially great for roads that are next to residential areas.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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