[Tagging] highway=footway - Advanced definition: Distinction footway vs path

ajt1047 at gmail.com ajt1047 at gmail.com
Mon Aug 3 15:06:39 UTC 2015

On 03/08/2015 11:30, johnw wrote:
> From all the history, it looks like path was made to show some kind of 
> mixed use way that footway was not good at - for mapping useful but 
> unpaved and irregular pathways - trails, tracks, etc. A guy was 
> pushing for this as useful for horses, I think.

My understanding (and it is only that - I'd welcome more definitive 
evidence or the recollection of someone who's been around longer) is 
that "footway", "bridleway" and "cycleway" were originally for "physical 
characteristics match a use type of X".  So a typical highway=cycleway 
is constructed so that a bicycle can easily travel along it; a typical 
highway=footway may not be.  In Germany these terms were mapped onto 
specific roadsigns, with "cycleway" mapped onto "cycle only" cycleways 
(something that's rare in the UK) and leaving a gap for "both bicycles 
and pedestrians" ones (which is normal in the UK).  "highway=path" came 
along and filled the gap, with the access tags replaced by signage 
information, with "yes" or "permissive" in the access tag changed to 

We are where we are with tag usage worldwide - in addition to e.g. path 
vs cycleway we've already seen in the parallel discussion how 
highway=path and highway=footway mean something different in Norway(2) 
compared to e.g. England and Wales.  Renderers have to do the best job 
they can of this.  Users changing "highway=footway" to "highway=path" 
(as happened in response to the recent attempt to change the wiki page 
of "footway") without changing other tags just removes information from 
the map.

FWIW I don't believe that:

"The current definition ("minor pathways which are used mainly or exclusively
by pedestrians") is not specific in providing definite distinctive features
between footway and path"

is actually a problem at all.  In the absense of signage, whether 
something is e.g. a bridleway or a footway is always going to be a value 
judgement (Are there wide gates rather than stiles?  Is the clear height 
to overhanging trees enough for a horse+rider?  Is there "evidence that 
the path has been used by horses recently" on the ground?).

If you don't know (perhaps you're mapping from imagery alone) then 
highway=path might be useful as a "vague generic basket" (to borrow 
Richard Mann's term) but following survey in most cases in many 
countries you'd be able to provide more detail than that(3).

As to "highway=footpath", I can only offer the obligatory:




(1) For example, how do I tag a way that's designed mostly for horse 
traffic but is actually only horse=permissive without using 


(3) In addition to surface, width, legal access, tracktype, smoothness, 
sac_scale, mtb:scale etc. that also help to provide more information.

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