What is the longest developed stretch of road in the world?
January 5, 2014 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I am curious to know the longest drive you can take where you will not see any undeveloped land, such as farmland, forest or field, on either side of the road. The route does not have to be one single road, although I suppose I would be curious about the longest individual developed road, as well as the largest developed area(s). This question came about because I was thinking about urban sprawl and mega cities. This question could also potentially be phrased as what is the longest/widest urban area in the world, although I imagine it could also be possible to have a string of smaller municipalities all linked together along a major road. It could also be possible to have an urban area that snakes around in multiple curves, as opposed to being a straight shot across (or up or down).
posted by PigAlien to Travel & Transportation (42 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This must be a top contender:

Sepulveda Blvd is 42.8 miles long and is the longest street in Los Angeles and also L.A. County. (Pronounced suh-PULL-vidah, not SUHPOOL-veedah.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:29 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sepulveda is impressively long, but there are definitely stretches that pass by undeveloped/wild terrain on one or both sides per the OP's criteria. The aptly named "Sepulveda Pass" section, for one.
posted by thebordella at 7:51 AM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Does "vacant, weedy lot" equal "field"? If so, it's going to be hard to find a 100% built up stretch of great length.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:53 AM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe somewhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area?
posted by cooker girl at 7:54 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can drive the 15+ mile Lærdal Tunnel and not see any undeveloped land, such as farmland, forest or field, on either side of the road.
posted by Flunkie at 8:04 AM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Western Avenue in the Chicago area is 23.5 miles long. If you count the extensions (Dixie Highway to the south and Asbury Ave to the north) it's even longer.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:11 AM on January 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

US Route 1 has been around a long time, and follows the path of previous roads on the east coast. Every time I've driven sections it seems like continuous sprawl.

I thought i remembered somebody's timelapse video of the trip from maine-florida, but i can't find it.

There are certainly sections that are undeveloped, but from dc-boston i'm sure it's fairly dense.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:19 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can get roughly 65 miles from near the Illinois-Wisconsin boarder to the Illinois-Indiana Border on a combination of Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive. Sheridan Road goes to Racine, but I suspect some of the stretch between Winthrop Harbor and Racine is somewhat undeveloped. You'd be able to stretch the southern end using Calumet Ave, but I'm not sure how far you could go. (I'm sort of assuming you want to require that different roads basically flow into each other.)
posted by hoyland at 8:24 AM on January 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

This feels vaguely unanswerable and if it IS its going to be a lot shorter than common sense may suggest. Just thinking about cities with largest land area... Rt 13 in Jacksonville goes many miles before coming upon undeveloped area. Lots of longish roads in mexico city. My solid guess would be Sao Paolo Brazil.

I can't even sort out how you can answer this except empirically using Google maps....

I like this question!!
posted by chasles at 8:26 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are some pretty long stretches of A1A -- the Atlantic shore road in Florida -- that are fully developed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:31 AM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think this really depends on what you consider a field - a small park with a soccer field probably wouldn't count, but where exactly is the line? How big a front yard becomes a field? An acre? Any grass at all?
posted by fermezporte at 8:32 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

[A few comments deleted; reminder: question is about roads that are surrounded by development all the way. Long roads in unpopulated areas will not be the answer.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:32 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about something in the SF bay area? El Camino Real maybe?

There are some promising looking areas in Japan as well, but I don't know enough about them.
posted by maryr at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know the answer (because this question essentially unanswerable, give the plastic nature of the 'built up/developed areas' requirement), but if you want to do your own research you probably need to stop looking at american cities (which are, on a global scale, very small and very very far apart), and start looking to asia. Asian cities are larger (by magnitudes) and are often more close together.
posted by Kololo at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

The answer is going to depend on how strictly "undeveloped land" is defined. Your criteria includes farmland, but farmland is land developed from its natural state. Would parks, which in urban areas are often land developed to look like undeveloped land, count? What about river crossings?

Someone mentioned US 1. Around New York City that appears to be developed from a stand of trees south of New Brunswick, NJ to a forested area east of New Haven, CT, which is about over a hundred miles. I would think that densely populated Japan or southern China would have longer stretches
posted by plastic_animals at 8:49 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was thinking the El Camino Real as well.

It's 600 miles in total and I dare say that if you were to drive it, whether on an interstate portion or city street, that it's pretty much developed.

But I think your best bet for a long drive with only buildings is El Camino Real in the San Francisco Bay Area.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:55 AM on January 5, 2014

The trouble with OP's premise is that sprawling cities don't sprawl outward like a wave that washes over everything it touches. They jump outward in ugly patches. Often they sprawl outward by absorbing other small communities as they go.

The most sprawling city in the world, just in terms of sheer space covered by sprawl marching outwards, is certainly the LA metroplex. Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Phoenix, Sao Paolo, Guangzhou, come in just after that. LA's sprawl is about 100 miles across, while the other cities on this list are all around 60 or so.

No other city in the world can really compete with the sprawl in these six cities. Europe and Africa have nothing that can compete, though Paris is marching outward in a very American
fashion... but it's still only about 40-50 miles across.

All of these cities have grown outward in this same patchwork. So even throughout Los Angeles, you will find lots of patches of undeveloped land, either due to topography (LA's foothills and rivers), preservation (national forest land, state parks, city parkland), and sheer economics (vacant lots that have been vacant for 50 years because of their price). Phoenix, Dallas, and Houston are even more patchy than LA. Sao Paolo and Guangzhou are a little more densely packed, though.

But a drive "without any undeveloped land on either side" is going to be a pretty short drive in any big, sprawling city.

Your best bet for these very strict criteria would be to go to Manhattan or maybe downtown Chicago, Boston, or Philadelphia. It's going to be a short drive though. Even the downtowns of those cities, as dense as they are, have vacant space.

But certainly, the LA Metro area is going to get you your longest drive in one direction while staying "in civilization," which means significant development happening on at least one side of the road at all times, along the whole stretch. To me that seems to be the spirit of what your question is really asking.

These two drives are "in civilization" the entire way, with no real breaks except for passing by parkland, crossing rivers/drainage systems, etc. Both will put you in awe if you have never driven them before, just at the sheer expanse of humanity.

Drive 1.
87 miles: San Clemente to Sylmar: The 5.
Here you don't even have to leave the same freeway. This stretch starts at the south end of San Clemente (just south of here is military land that breaks the stretch of undivided sprawl, otherwise you could keep going all the way down to the Mexico border). At the north end, the chain is broken by a pass through the foothills into Santa Clarita. If we want to be liberal in our interpretation, we could extend this drive all the way north to Castaic, 100 miles in total, before you hit the Grapevine and you really leave civilization.

Drive 2.
112 miles: Redlands to Newbury Park: The 10 to the 57 to the 210 to the 134 to the 101.
This drive is the all time sprawl champ. It starts as the 10 drops out of the Yucaipa hills into Redlands, and you get a nice dramatic view of the smog and the civilization laid out in front of you. It ends as the 101 drops out of Newbury Park down the hill into Camarillo. If we really want to be liberal about defining "in civilization," you could drive from Cabazon all the way out to Ventura and be in a developed area for over 150 straight miles.

Around the world, Sao Paolo has a drive like this that would be about 60 miles (Itapevi to Mogi das Cruzes), and Phoenix has one that's about 60 as well (Verrado to Apache Junction). In DFW, you can go between Benbrook (SW corner) to McKinney (NE corner) for about 70 miles of unbroken civilization. But nothing tops LA for sheer sprawl of humanity.
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:00 AM on January 5, 2014 [15 favorites]

Sepulveda is impressively long, but there are definitely stretches that pass by undeveloped/wild terrain on one or both sides per the OP's criteria. The aptly named "Sepulveda Pass" section, for one.

There's development in the Sepulveda Pass. You just have to look up. There's also The Getty, and then the homes around Moraga. There used to be a gas station but I'm not sure if it's there anymore.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:27 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would guess the answer is going to be some combination of in one of the urban agglomerations in Japan. At first thought probably Tokyo but maybe Kansai.
posted by JPD at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2014

IIRC, Broadway in New York City starts in lower Manhattan and goes all the way to the Albany area (it changes names).
posted by Melismata at 9:46 AM on January 5, 2014

If parking lots count, then PCH/1 might rack up impressive miles.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:53 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about The New Jersey Turnpike, especially the northern end.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:35 AM on January 5, 2014

My submission would be the M25 motorway. It's 177 miles around and since it encircles London I'd guess it's pretty developed all the way around.
posted by like_neon at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2014

A large area of urban sprawl would be the Golden Horsehoe, centered on Toronto. If you begin in Grimsby on the QEW and then join the 401 (believed to be the world's widest and busiest highway) and take it past Toronto to Ajax the closest you will see of "undeveloped" nature is a few relatively narrow ravines that have bridges built over them (in reality, most of that nature has been developed over the past hundred years). That route is about 150 km, I believe.

If you allow for brief areas of currently used farmland/Vineland with houses and business's every couple hundred feet, that length can probably be tripled by driving from St Catherine's to Courtice. (There are extensive forests on the Niagara Escarpment between Niagara Falls and St Catherine's so I didn't include the whole Golden Horseshoe). You can also make the route longer by detouring through Hamilton and/or up Yonge Street to Holland Landing and/or doing a parallel run along Hwy 7 or Steeles Ave at the top of the GTA. I live near the end of the urbanised part of Hwy 7 and it would take me several hours of driving to reach the other end of Hwy 7 where rural lands appear between heavy urban development.
posted by saucysault at 11:09 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Chicago there's also North Avenue, which goes 30+ miles east to west, out into the suburbs. I've driven it to St. Charles (where it ends) and IIRC it's developed the whole way. Boring, but developed.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 12:16 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the delay, had appointments away from home this morning. Thanks for all of the answers so far, definitely some good food for thought!

Yes, the question was vague, although not purposely :) I like to travel and am going to LA soon, and was trying to compare the size of LA to my own home city using this website:


When trying to compare the size of the two cities, I had a hard time trying to decide exactly where "LA" stops. Of course, there are definite boundaries to the city, but the urban area goes on and on and on... Looking at the satellite view on Google Maps, the developed areas show up as a mass of gray on top of brown or green dirt and vegetation. So, basically, my primary question was 'what's the longest stretch of gray (urban development) in the world (i.e. on Google Maps)'?

I also like to drive around and when I go on vacation, I always rent a car and go exploring. When looking at the map of LA, I started to wonder how long I could drive and never leave the urban environment. As a traveler, of course, I also started to wonder about other urban areas in the world that just seem to keep on going and going. So, my thinking was definitely not freeways and oriented towards roads with pedestrian traffic. I think a great way to experience another culture is to drive around different neighborhoods and see how people interact on the street and how busy different areas are.

So, therefore, vacant city lots, public parks surrounded by development, etc. would count as developed, but rural land, such as agricultural use wouldn't really count, unless it was legacy agricultural fully surrounded by city and not too large in size, and perhaps only on one side of the road for not very long stretches. This, of course, is where the question gets vague.

I debated adding 'either side of the road' because some roads travel along lakes, oceans, parks, etc., and can still be in the middle of a very developed area. Perhaps my question would have been better off without specifying both sides of the road, but I guess those could also be two separate questions. One question is definitely more difficult to answer than the other. I'm glad I provided some food for thought for other map and travel fans!

Please, keep the answers coming :) I'll refrain from choosing a best answer because the question is unfairly vague. If I really must choose one, I'll probably just choose the one with the most favorites.

Is there really no more urban sprawl than LA? I would have thought China near Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai would have some pretty serious sprawl. I also thought of Japan, but wasn't really sure just how sprawling it all is.
posted by PigAlien at 12:55 PM on January 5, 2014

Oh, and I should think bridges don't count, as long as the road is fully developed on both sides of the bridge. For instance, the bridge over the Bosphurus in Istanbul.
posted by PigAlien at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2014

I'd like to echo saucysault and suggest that it could be Yonge Street (pronounced young street) in Ontario, Canada. According to Wikipedia, Yonge Street is 1,896 km (1,178 mi) long.

Another source says that the Guinness Book now credits Yonge Street as second to the Pan-American Highway. However, based on PigAlien's response I don't think the Pan-American highway is aligned with the specified criteria.
posted by nathaole at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2014

Google Maps seems unwilling to calculate cross-border directions between Hong Kong, China, and Macau, but here's an entirely-developed route I cobbled together, following main/provincial roads between the three, that tops out at over 400 km/250 miles.

It's not overly convoluted but it does avoid the motorways in China, which often plow through what remains of the Pearl River Delta's countryside, especially on the less-developed western side. Sometimes there is a tiny farm on one side of the route, or a mountain, or a tunnel even if there's a more sprawly alternative nearby; Google Maps data seems to have not caught up with the pace of what's on their satellites, so some routes skip obvious roads that appear on the satellite and map but haven't made it into the directions algorithm. But you could drive this route today.

Hong Kong section
, 85 km/52 miles: Stanley to Lok Ma Chau via Aberdeen, Central, Eastern, Kwun Tong, Mong Kok, Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin, and Fanling

China section, 315 km/195 miles: Futian Border Crossing in Shenzhen to Zhuhai's Gongbei Port border crossing to Macau via Dongguan, Guangzhou, Foshan, and Zhongshan

Macau section, 20 km/12 miles: Portas do Cerco border crossing to Cheoc Van beach via the old city of Macau, Taipa, the reclaimed casino area of Cotai, and Coloane village

Finally: the Hong Kong to Macau journey time will be slashed in a few years when the insanely huge bridge between the two will be complete.

(On preview, I seem to have complied with all of the qualifications of this question!)
posted by mdonley at 1:27 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would think The Tokyo-Yokohama road network would have to be in the running. If you take that road close to the coast there's basically no countryside at all. Hell, there's only the smallest amount all the way to Nagoya.
posted by smoke at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, basically, my primary question was 'what's the longest stretch of gray (urban development) in the world (i.e. on Google Maps)'?

Hmmm... if that's your question, then I think Toyko/Yokohama has to be the best answer. I forgot that in my first post... great point. Toyko/Yokohama has unbroken civilization at ridiculous distances away from the city center. It really stretches all the way to Maebashi in the northwest, and Utsonomiya in the north.

If it's a single largest metro area, then LA may still be your answer. This is kind of the area that most people would consider to be part of "LA."
posted by Old Man McKay at 1:48 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's not bad although some of the Hong Kong and China section could be arguable.

For "long" no one has mentioned South Florida. Florida City to Jupiter FL is 122 miles. There are some mansions on the seaward side of Hobe Sound. Get past Hobe Sound and it is 70 miles to Sebastian, FL (north of Vero Beach). So 190+ miles of development provided you hug the coast.
posted by calwatch at 1:49 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, mdonley, I'm going to have to take a closer look at those, but good work! Just looking at the satellite view, it almost looks like you might get an even longer route going up into Guangzhou, but I'd have to look closer to see if there weren't gaps along the way. This could be fun detective work!
posted by PigAlien at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2014

Some day, I would love to drive one of these! I'll have to drill down into Japan too and take a closer look.
posted by PigAlien at 1:59 PM on January 5, 2014

Old Man McKay, that is almost exactly the area I picked out for LA (not really knowing as an outsider, but guessing from the gray area of the map)! Glad my instincts aren't far off.
posted by PigAlien at 2:01 PM on January 5, 2014

So, to clarify, you're looking at *urban* development on both sides of the stretch? In the States I can only think of Broadway in Manhattan or maybe State Street in Chicago. LA is right out. It's big but it's wide, and has stretches of nothing.
posted by trip and a half at 2:04 PM on January 5, 2014

My submission would be the M25 motorway. It's 177 miles around and since it encircles London I'd guess it's pretty developed all the way around.

Big, long chunks of the M25 are lined with fields - it's nowhere near developed for its entire length.
posted by jontyjago at 3:28 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's a scenic tour of LA's freeways.
The only really questionable part is on the Riverside Freeway going towards Yorba Linda.

It starts at what I, coming from San Diego, always thought of as the "start" of LA.
It's essentially 400 miles of all urban environment, the patches of green are mostly golf courses and parks.
The only really iffy part is coming back on the Riverside Freeway towards Yorba Linda, the pass is undeveloped, but you'll be able to see housing/urban sprawl. Not sure how that fits into your definition.

Depending on how strict your criteria are, you could stretch it another 50 miles or so, but you're going to get into parts of the trip where you will see agricultural/large parks with very little visible development.

Also, you could stretch it out further by doing a loop of the inside freeways around LA.
posted by madajb at 4:17 PM on January 5, 2014

As stated, I'm not sure you can answer this question.

Above, I tried to stay on freeways, but honestly, I could send you on a 1000 mile journey on surface streets in LA and you'd see concrete the entire way.
posted by madajb at 4:21 PM on January 5, 2014

I just wanted to concur with Old Man McKay's map. Anywhere in that red area is plausibly LA. So north to Santa Clarita, east to the Inland Empire at Redlands, and south to south Orange County. It's a largely-paved area of 50x100 miles. And it's still marching east into the desert.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:46 AM on January 6, 2014

like_neon: My submission would be the M25 motorway. It's 177 miles around and since it encircles London I'd guess it's pretty developed all the way around.

Who on earth favourited this? If you've ever been near the M25 you'd know that nearly all of it is surrounded by fields - there are only very short stretches that are "developed". It's also only 117 miles around - nowhere near 177 miles. Just looking at Europe, the Berliner Ring is longer but also not completely developed.
posted by turkeyphant at 9:07 AM on January 6, 2014

If you're counting the Spanish land grants in Alta California as 'legacy agricultural,' since most of them became cattle ranches, then an awful lot of LA's open spaces would count as developed.
posted by culfinglin at 3:06 PM on January 7, 2014

« Older Quality Women's Ski Jacket   |   Let's turn this garden up to eleven! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.