[Tagging] Help explain the difference between path and track

Tod Fitch tod at fitchfamily.org
Tue Jun 9 22:11:56 UTC 2020

> On Jun 9, 2020, at 2:22 PM, Mike Thompson <miketho16 at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Jun 9, 2020 at 3:02 PM brad <bradhaack at fastmail.com <mailto:bradhaack at fastmail.com>> wrote:
> A track does have a different function, it can handle a 2 track vehicle, a path can't.
> Yes, a "track" has a different function, its function is for agriculture or forestry.
> A wide path on the other hand has the same function as a narrow path.
> If functional is sacrosanct,  why do we have motorway?   A motorway could just be a trunk or primary with extra tags denoting limited access.
> That is a good question.  But it was stated on this list just a couple of weeks ago that the highway=* tag was a functional classification, "except for motorway"....

In my rendering of hiking maps I currently have to look at 13 tags and their values to make a decision if a “path” or “footway” might be what I want to render. This is ridiculous. It is neither easy for the mapper nor the renderer.

On the motor vehicle side this would be the equivalent of saying all ways intended for cars should be mapped as highway=road and we can distinguish them by using surface, width, smoothness, maximum speed, etc.

I think we need some more values for the highway tag that would allow a mapper to easily tag:

1) A narrow rural trail where you probably want good footwear and are likely to take a small pack with water, snacks, etc.
2) A smooth hard surfaced walk, usually in or near urban/suburban areas) suitable for pushing a stroller.
3) A wide fairly smooth way (usually in or near urban/suburban areas) designed for getting exercise. Probably not paved, but with a natural appearing surface that is maintained to be fairly smooth.

In my part of the world many of those things are general purpose (mixed foot and bicycle use and often horses). Mappers end up using highway tag values of path, footway, track, and, rarely, cycleway or bridlepath. If we are lucky they might put a surface tag or some access tags on it. It is a mess. Hard for a beginning mapper to decide what tags to use. Hard for a data consumer to figure out what the mapper was trying to map.

The two major factions seem to be set in their ways: “It is only a track if it is used for agriculture or forestry” on one side. “It has the same physical characteristics as a track, so it is a track even if it is currently used for hiking, bicycling, riding horses, or by ATVs” on the other side.

That also spills into is it a track or a service (driveway)? Depends on if it goes to a barn or a house! But I can’t tell without trespassing, how can I map it?

First step, I think, is to be less pedantic about function on things that look exactly like a track. Mappers in all the areas I’ve looked at will tag a way that is unpaved and about the width of a four wheeled vehicle as a track regardless of current use. Maybe it is being used as a driveway. Maybe it is being used as a bicycling/hiking/equestrian trail. Maybe it accesses a field. Maybe it hasn’t been used for a while and just hasn’t decayed or been overgrown into nothing. Who knows? But it looks like a track. Saying that the way “isn’t for forestry or agricultural use” so it can’t be a track is worthless: Real world mappers have voted otherwise with their tagging.


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