The term shunpiking comes from the word shun, meaning "to avoid", and pike, a term referring to turnpikes, which are roads that require payment of a toll to travel on them. People who often avoid toll roads sometimes call themselves shunpikers. Historically, the paths around the tollbooths came to be so well known they were called "shun-pikes".
Shunpiking has also come to mean an avoidance of major highways (regardless of tolls) in preference for bucolic and scenic interludes along lightly traveled country roads.
While the motive behind shunpiking is usually little more than a desire to avoid paying tolls, it is also not unheard of from a person or group to engage in shunpiking while travelling to and/or from the scene of a crime that he or she or they are intending to perpetrate or have just perpetrated. In that case, the goal of engaging in shunpiking is to avoid leaving any record of the perpetrator(s) travelling to and/or away from, and/or having been near the scene of the crime.
Shunpikes were in use in the United States in the early 1800s. A shunpike in Morris County, New Jersey dates back to 1804; one near Mt. Holly, Vermont, was in existence at least as early as 1809; and one in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire was created circa 1810.
A newspaper article in the "New Jersey Journal" of 6 Mar 1804, (p. 4), references a house for sale on Shunpike Road between Morristown and Elizabethtown [Elizabeth], New Jersey. This "Shunpike Road," parts of which are still extant, was in existence the same year that the turnpike opened for business: 1804. It ran southwest of and parallel to the Morris Turnpike [now called "Old Turnpike Road.]. It was formed by the improvement and connection of sideroads to enable country people to avoid the expenses of the tolls. Shunpike road ran through the towns of Bottle Hill [now called "Madison"], Chatham, Summit and Springfield.
- Not content with the payment of a toll, some of the residents got together and built a slight bridge called the "Shunpike" across the Taylor's River, some distance west of the Turnpike bridge, where travelers and teamsters could cross without charge. This continued on until April 12, 1826, when the toll on the Turnpike was discontinued and has remained a free road to this day.
- John Holman, Hampton History Volunteer, New Hampshire Library
There is a toll of $4 in each direction on the 11 mile Delaware Turnpike, or I-95. It is the most expensive turnpike in the United States when calculated per mile. Since the turnpike does not utilize ramp tolls and instead imposes a toll only on drivers passing through a toll plaza just east of the Maryland state line, the toll is easily avoided by using local roads, with little to no time delay. By taking the last exit of I-95 in Maryland, MD 279, one can continue northbound on MD 279, cross into Delaware, turn right at Christiana Parkway, and make another right onto DE 896 and will soon arrive once again at I-95. Large trucks cannot use this detour as DE 4 and DE 896 have width and weight restrictions.
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Some methods of shunpiking may be quicker than taking toll roads. Perhaps the best-known example is long-distance through traffic for Interstate 70, which for 86 miles runs concurrent with Interstate 76 along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Westbound travelers can exit I-70 in Maryland just south of the Pennsylvania border and enter Interstate 68, continuing along I-68's entire length through western Maryland and into West Virginia until arriving at Interstate 79, I-68's western terminus, in Morgantown, West Virginia. After merging onto I-79 north, a traveler can enter Pennsylvania and merge back onto I-70 in Washington, Pennsylvania, where I-70 and I-79 are briefly concurrent.
Despite the added mileage, the higher speed limit in West Virginia and relatively non-congested roadways in western Maryland (combined with the various tunnels and pre-Interstate quality of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) makes the shunpiking trip quicker than the toll route. (The Pennsylvania Turnpike was grandfathered from modern Interstate standards.)
In Oklahoma east of Oklahoma City, Interstate 44 replaced old US 66 as the main route in the form of the Turner Turnpike between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the Will Rogers Turnpike between Tulsa and the Missouri state line. However, locals have kept old 66 alive by using it for shunpiking instead of the locally unpopular toll expressway.
Historical boycott in Virginia
One such example of shunpiking as a form of boycott occurred at the James River Bridge in eastern Virginia, United States. After years of lower than anticipated revenues on the narrow, privately funded structure built in 1928, the Commonwealth of Virginia finally purchased the facility in 1949. However, rather than announcing a long-expected decrease in tolls, the state officials increased the rates in 1955 without visibly improving the roadway, with the notable exception of building a new toll plaza.
The increased toll rates incensed the public and business users alike. In a well-publicized example of shunpiking, Joseph W. Luter Jr., head of Smithfield Packing Company (the producer of Smithfield Hams), ordered his truck drivers to take different routes and cross smaller and cheaper bridges. Despite the boycott by Luter and others, tolls continued for 20 more years. They were finally removed from the old bridge in 1975 when construction began on a toll-free replacement structure.
In the early 1990s, the management of the Severn Bridge doubled the tolls in one direction (England to Wales) and made the other direction free of charge, presumably to save on staff costs. As a result, many lorry drivers now use the Severn Bridge in the free direction, but when travelling from England to Wales, cross the Severn at Gloucester, where there is no charge, and then drive through the Forest of Dean.
In Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, when crossing Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon/New Kowloon, most drivers and businesses prefer the much cheaper, and older, Cross Harbour Tunnel (XHT), to the Western Harbour Crossing. The toll differences are particularly significant for lorries, coaches and buses. The government has proposed a subsidy to users of a third tunnel, the Eastern Harbour Crossing, to relieve the congestion through the XHT and around both ends of the XHT. The proposal of increasing the Cross Harbour Tunnel's prices and lowering that of the Eastern Harbour Crossing has yet to be put into practise.
A similar phenomenon exists with the Lion Rock Tunnel between Sha Tin New Town (and the rest of the eastern and northeastern New Territories) and New Kowloon. Most users prefer Lion Rock Tunnel to the Tate's Cairn Tunnel or Shing Mun Tunnels, or the Eagle's Nest-Sha Tin Heights Tunnels as the new tunnels are longer and more expensive. However, this problem is not as serious as the tunnels connecting Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
In popular culture
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary definition of shunpike: "a side road used to avoid the toll on or the speed and traffic of a superhighway"; The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. def of shunpiking: "To travel on side roads, avoiding turnpikes."
- Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, p.214
- "New-Jersey Journal," [newspaper] [Elizabeth-town, New Jersey], Tuesday, March 6, 1804, p.4
- "Rutland Herald" [newspaper], Rutland, Vermont, 21 February 1810 edition, p. 4: advertisement dated 23 December 1809.
- "Bottle Hill and Madison : Glimpses and reminiscences from its earliest settlement to the civil war." By William Parkhurst Tuttle. Madison, NJ : Madison Eagle Press, 1916.
- The Turnpike v. The Shunpike.
- Exton, Peter. A shunpiker's guide to the Northeast : Washington to Boston without turnpikes or interstates / Peter Exton. McLean, Va. : EPM Publications, c1988. 159 p. : ill. ; 22 cm. ISBN 0-939009-10-2