[Tagging] Help explain the difference between path and track

Kevin Kenny kevin.b.kenny at gmail.com
Wed Jun 10 00:29:29 UTC 2020

On Tue, Jun 9, 2020 at 6:13 PM Tod Fitch <tod at fitchfamily.org> wrote:

> 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.

In terms of function, 'track' and 'service' (with or without
'driveway') are practically interchangeable - at least in terms of
what they provide to the road network. They're both distinguished by
the fact that they don't 'go anywhere'. They typically serve only a
single establishment - public roads that serve multiple establishments
are typically at least 'unclassified'.  They typically are something
that a router should treat by default as 'access=destination'. They're
the 'leaves' of the network. The distinction makes essentially no
difference to routing, unless you are of the faction that believes
that 'track' is something that needs more than a regular car. Even
then, if your destination lies on a track, you probably are equipped
for it.  It makes a difference to rendering, well, mostly because
someone thought it ought to.

For me, If I see the ruts that indicate that double-tracked vehicles
use a way, it's at least a track.  That causes me to map some hiking
trails as tracks (because they're also snowmobile trails, or because
there's someone with an inholding who has keys to the gate, or the
park service drives on them, or whatever.  I've departed from that in
cases where the ruts are obviously not current, for instance in the
case of a logging road that's been abandoned long enough that trees
are growing in it, even though ruts and workings are clearly visible
(https://www.flickr.com/photos/ke9tv/14919563634 - note that not all
the workings have held up as well:

I don't use 'path'  very much except that JOSM wants to use it for
'combined foot- and cycleway'.  Using JOSM, I'll typically tag a way
as a 'path' so that I get the dialog where I can quickly fill in
surface, smoothness, maybe width and incline.  Then I retag using one
of the 'footway', 'cycleway' or 'bridleway' presets depending on the
largest creature that uses it - so I've recently tagged a few
track-ish things around here as 'highway=bridleway surface=compacted
smoothness=good bicycle=designated foot=designated width=3'  There's
some evidence that motor vehicles use it occasionally, but only for
official purposes.

The locals near me seem to use 'service' or 'unclassified' if you can
drive on it in a regular car (at least in summer) and 'track' if you
are likely to need a four-wheeler or at least a high ground clearance.

This is fundamentally an American perspective. I'm sure that there's
some sort of legal difference in the UK between a service way and a
track that's extremely important.

73 de ke9tv/2, Kevin

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