[Tagging] Subject: Feature Proposal - RFC - highway=social_path

Alan McConchie alan.mcconchie at gmail.com
Fri Mar 25 22:54:31 UTC 2016

Dear tagging list,

I’d like to solicit comments on the following proposal, to create a new tag called "highway=social_path"

Wiki page is here: https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Proposed_features/Social_path

Definition from the wiki page:

We propose the "social_path" value to mark so-called social trails (also known as bootleg trails or desire lines): game trails, detours, or short-cuts that have seen sufficient pedestrian use that they appear to be highway=path. Such trails often contribute to erosion and may represent hazards to both humans and the environment.

Social trails are considered unauthorized by managing agencies and are often inventoried for remediation purposes. In extreme circumstances (e.g. emergencies) they may be used for travel in the same way in which game trails can be followed. However, users of these trails should assess the relative risk in the case of emergencies: using a social trail may be extremely hazardous, and may be more dangerous than the emergency the user is trying to escape from.

Rationale from the wiki page:

Use of unauthorized trails can have significant environmental impacts in terms of erosion and habitat destruction, and it can also lead to dangerous situations where casual hikers find themselves in steep or otherwise hazardous terrain. We need a way to mark these trails so they can be excluded from public-facing wayfinding maps. Simply deleting the trails is unlikely to be effective since mappers tracing aerial imagery would have no idea that a past trail was removed and would not be able to distinguish it from an intentional path.
Giving park agencies a way to manage and communicate the intentionality of their trails within OSM would encourage them to use the map and see OSM trail mappers as a resource in helping disseminate accurate wayfinding information within their parks as well as contributing to remediation efforts.

Some commenters have suggested using the existing highway=path tag, with supplemental tags such as access=no or informal=yes, or a new supplemental tag path=social_trail, or adding an operator tag. However, these supplemental tags are too easily ignored by data consumers and renderers, which is problematic given the destructive and hazardous nature of social trails in many areas. This proposal argues that it is better and safer for data consumers and renderers to *opt in* in order to show these ways, rather than the existing situation where a renderer has to actively *opt out* to remove trails with access=no or informal=yes. The default should err on the side of safety.


We (Stamen Design and GreenInfo Network, on behalf of the non-profit CaliParks project) developed this proposal in conjunction with local park managers in California. These park managers have unmatched local knowledge about the quality and safety of trails in their parks. From their point of view, social trails are qualitatively and fundamentally different from typical trails, to the extent that social trails should be a distinct feature in OSM. We recognize that this view is controversial, but we welcome the discussion and we will abide by the vote of the OSM community. We do not see this as a case of "tagging for the renderer": rather this is a good-faith effort to improve the tagging within OSM to better and more accurately describe the world, in ways that improve the experience for the majority of OSM data users and renderers. 

Note: As an experiment, we tagged 17 features in Marin County, California, as highway=social_path, but these have subsequently been re-tagged as highway=path, access=no. To my knowledge there are now no currently-existing examples of highway=social_path in the main database. See the discussion on the talk-us list for more information. Thread begins here: https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk-us/2016-March/016031.html

We look forward to your comments,

Alan McConchie
Stamen Design

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