[Tagging] surface=ground/dirt/earth

Dave Swarthout daveswarthout at gmail.com
Thu Mar 13 08:57:56 UTC 2014

I'll weigh in with the common American conception of "dirt road". It is a
general term meaning unpaved. As Jaakko correctly pints out, some "dirt
roads" are really quite well built. For an example close to my Alaska home,
the long lonely road leading to the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, see these images
of the Dalton Highway:

In my neighborhood of Homer, Alaska, indeed in most of rural Alaska,
residential roads are generally unpaved. Due to the severe winter
conditions, paving roads in Alaska is very expensive and once paved they
require frequent, expensive maintenance. I tag them as surface=gravel to
agree with OSM definitions but in everyday conversations they're called
dirt roads.

To construct such a road involves removing all the topsoil above the frost
line, piling truckloads of gravel base over the subsoil, putting down a
layer of geo-textile fabric to keep the road base stable during spring
"breakup", and then putting more truckloads of a specially formulated
mixture of clay, gravel and sand on top and grading it smooth. Once the
highway is open for use, this grading process is repeated several times
during each "summer season" as rain and traffic regularly pound potholes
into it. The best time to drive on these roads is in winter after the first
snow has hardened into a smooth layer  — no potholes, no dust, smooth

As for "earth" or "ground" — I've never encountered those terms as
descriptions of road surfaces. Many dirt roads in the United States are not
as good as those in Alaska because of the expense involved and because
winters are so much less severe. They are really just dirt — an unpaved
track whose composition is a mix of clay and sand and gravel, whatever is
there to begin with plus some topping to make it less slippery in rain.



On Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 12:05 PM, Jaakko Helleranta.com <
jaakko at helleranta.com> wrote:

> My (non-native) English understanding / ear says that dirt is a general
> name for all unpaved roads. This may include any loose material, really
> ranging from soil that just happened to be there to natural or processed
> sand to industrially produced gravel, possibly with an added layer of
> "loose" material spread on top of the gravel to make it less loose (eg rock
> ash). So, as far as I classify / understand, dirt roads _may_ be quite well
> built.
> Now, earth and ground both give me a strong connotation of a road (or a
> borderline track) that is practically not built. Or at least the surface
> material is not processed sand or gravel and certainly it doesn't have a
> "finishing layer" such as rock ash.
> This said I would also consider earth=ground surfaced roads as being
> clearly more prone to bad condition after rains (or melted snow, etc).
> So, I would say that earth and ground are synonyms but dirt is the broader
> concept. In fact I would see dirt pretty much synonymous to unpaved - but
> would hesitate to nuke one of those over another as I would not be
> surprised if a bunch of people would see this differently.
> How do others here understand these terms?
> Cheers,
> -Jaakko
> .. Whose family's summer cottage in Finland has a pretty well
> self-constructed 1.5km strip of dirt road leading to it with sand base,
> gravel top, rock ash finishing layer.
> --
> Sent from my Android device. * +505-8845-3391 * http://about.me/jaakkoh
>  Hello,
> There are 3 values for surface (ground, dirt and earth) that are
> described as "probably equivalent" in the wiki. The pictures tell a
> slightly different story: ground seems to allow the presence of
> "grass" along with "usage marks" (car or pedestrian tracks), as does
> earth, whereas dirt seems to include no grass and include the
> possibility of "mud" after rainfall.
> TagInfo shows that "earth" is significantly less used than the other
> two. Could we officially recommend against that value then? Having so
> many equal things makes translation (and teaching) much harder than
> necessary, and I don't see when an application would differentiate
> between these values.
> I tried searching for their definitions in English dictionaries, but
> they point to each other as synonyms. "Earth" is sometimes cited as a
> "poetic description" of soil. "Ground" could describe anything from
> "soil" to harder surfaces. I believe the most accurate description
> would actually be something along the lines of "bare soil" (confirmed
> by comparing results in Google Images).
> --
> Fernando Trebien
> +55 (51) 9962-5409
> "The speed of computer chips doubles every 18 months." (Moore's law)
> "The speed of software halves every 18 months." (Gates' law)
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Dave Swarthout
Homer, Alaska
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Travel Blog at http://dswarthout.blogspot.com
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