[Tagging] track smoothness/quality

brad bradhaack at fastmail.com
Wed Jul 3 01:10:24 UTC 2019

A pretty standard nomenclature on maps in the US for unpaved roads is
Improved Road
Unsurfaced Road (High Clearance)
Four Wheel Drive
Other variations exist , but not too dissimilar.
Pretty simple and anyone who spends time in the mountains or forest gets 
a feel for what it means and has an idea what to expect.   OSM is a mess 
in this regards.   The inconsistency make it difficult if not impossible 
to render a good map.

As I read the OSM wiki,  smoothness=* is the relevant tag to distinguish 
between a 2wd road, a high clearance road, and a 4 wheel drive road.    
Surface is important too, but isn't sufficient if it's dirt/unpaved/ground.

Unfortunately, the wiki for highway, in the section for track says: " To 
describe the quality of a track, see tracktype 
<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:tracktype>=*. "
But, as described in the wiki,  tracktype is not very relevant to the 
western US, since the first sentence of the description is 
Solid/Mostly*/Soft.  Perhaps relevant to the English countryside, but 
the roads around here are usually Solid, but could be 
smoothness:very_horrible.   It seems redundant with surface=* also.
It looks like the common usage is to just use tracktype intuitively 
(grade5 is 4wd even if it's Solid), and ignore the wiki & the smoothness 
tag.  Unfortunately its usage is inconsistent.  I see roads that are 
clearly (by onsite inspection) 4wd, tagged as grade2 and some graded 
gravel roads tagged as grade2.
Tracktype could be sufficient if clarified, and if we were starting from 
scratch that's what I would prefer.

As I see it, two paths forward to improve this situation.
1) Change the wiki for highway so it mentions Smoothness=*, and 
de-emphasize  tracktype=*
2) Take the leading sentence mentioning Solid/Soft out of the tracktype 
description (or de-emphasize it), and add more verbage about high 
clearance or 4 wheel drive.    There is some discussion on the 
key:tracktype discussion page about adding grade6+.
3) Ignore the wiki, and just use tracktype.   I see in the discussion 
page that is what many are doing.


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