DEFY S. McQUAID! #60: Mass Pike – which lane is longer?

The Question

Ben asks:

Shaun, simple question for you today:

If I was to drive the Mass Pike from the beginning (NY border) to the end (Logan Airport) exclusively in the right lane, would i travel a longer or shorter distance than someone traveling in the left lane? (we can ignore the pesky middle lane since it only exists on like half the pike)

The Answer

Taking a quick look at the road map, the casual observer will see that the Mass Pike curves in a gentle “U” shape, starting at the MA border, dipping down to drift through Springfield, staying low through Sturbridge, then slowly drifting back up for it’s eventual end in Boston. Given that this is the case, it’s clear that the left lane is shorter (just like how the inside track in a circular race course is shorter).

BUT WAIT! Have you taken into account the CURVATURE OF THE EARTH?

Well, of course! Would you expect anything less from me?

A “Great Circle Route” shortens the distance you travel on the globe by taking into account the curvature of the Earth. However, because we are in the Northern Hemisphere, any Great Circle Route would curve DOWN, like a frown, not UP, like the Mass Pike. So, even with the curvature taken into account, the left lane is STILL shorter.

Here are some posts from other would-be answerers or commenters on the question.

Mike D says
whoa! I’ve been wondering this same thing for years!

Now you can rest easy, Mike D….

Kurt says
Don’t forget the Right lane at around exit 9 becomes the middle due to the addition of the NYC traffic. So the right lane would become that pesky middle lane. And if you try to go the other way, the right lane would dissappear as it is the exit lane for Exit 9 (Rt84) Don’t forget to keep that in mind while calculating that all knowing Shaun.

No worries. I take all factors into account. Even the gravitational constant. And the X-files (especially the episodes with cameos from current West Wing stars). Please note that we are only concerned with the “left-to-right” journey in this answer…

Patrick says
You’d be driving a longer distance in the right hand lane.

Our conclusions agree, Patrick. As a side note, Interstate 90 would continue beyond the MA border, across the country, and directly into Seattle. Connected by the same road! Ever drive on I-90?

3 thoughts on “DEFY S. McQUAID! #60: Mass Pike – which lane is longer?

  • 3/28/2006 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve driven on I-90, yes, but not as often as you might think. The Everett-Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia corridor runs north to south, so I-5 and I-405 are my main highways.

    In the winter, it gets a little claustrophobic for a native Kansan who’s used to open spaces and escapes in all directions. In Everett, I’m pinned in by the Sound on the west, the Cascades on the east, Canada on the north, and Seattle (= traffic) on the south. Between here and Portland, there are only two ways to get over the Cascades, US-2 (Steven’s Pass) or I-90 (Snoqualmie Pass). Depending on the weather, those passes can be closed or chains are required. This prompts websites such as:

    Since US-2 ends in Everett, that’s the usual method of Cascade passing that I do. The trails accessible via US-2 are less traveled, and the ski slopes are better, so I like US-2 over I-90, not to mention the traffic is lighter.

    When I drove up from Kansas, the only stretch I took was about 120 miles long within WA.

    I-90 also exactly ends at SafeCo field, where the Mariners play. I-90 turns into Edgar Martinez Avenue, I think.

    Also, in Seattle-speak, I-90 is also one of the “floating bridges”. For those unfamiliar with Seattle geography, Seattle is on an isthmus between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Across Lake Washington are the suburbs of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond. For people traveling to downtown Seattle for work, you have to take one of the floating bridges over the lake, either WA-520 or I-90. The traffic reports always tell you the current best method to cross the lake.

    Because of the mountains and hills and lakes and sounds, traffic here is really congested, and that’s why Seattle is one of the 5 worst cities for traffic.

    Wow, I just wrote a lot about I-90. Ha!

  • 3/28/2006 at 2:45 pm

    One of my favorite drives this summer was on I-90 headed towards Rochester to see Kurt. It was a sunny, warm day, hot enough to do the whole thing with music blaring and the sunroof open as I headed up through the really woodsy parts of I-90 west/northwest of Springfield up into NY. I ended up in a sick sick thunderstorm too. Excellant drive.

  • 3/28/2006 at 9:00 pm

    An interesting followup… how much time would you save by going with the flow in the left lane, compared to going with the flow in the right lane?


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