The term shunpiking comes from the word shun, meaning "to avoid", and pike, a term referring to turnpikes, which were roads which required payment of a toll to travel on them. People who often avoid toll roads sometimes call themselves shunpikers.

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.

For some, practice of shunpiking involved a form of boycott of tolls (rather than just avoidance of them for financial reasons) by taking another route, perhaps slower, longer, or under poorer road conditions.

Historical boycott in Virginia

One such example of shunpiking as a form of boycott occurred at the James River Bridge in eastern Virginia. 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. The newer toll plaza at the southern end outlived the original bridge by more than 30 years as an administration building, before it too was demolished in the early 21st century. Preservationists petitioned against the demolition of the toll structure.

Publications related to shunpiking

  • 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


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