[Tagging] Help explain the difference between path and track

Daniel Westergren westis at gmail.com
Wed Jun 10 06:18:28 UTC 2020

Interesting that this discussion came back from another angle. Obviously
there is an issue here that we need some kind of consensus about. There are
advantages with the wiki-style community that OSM is, but cases like this
also demonstrate the clear disadvantages when there is no board or similar
with a mandate to decide about tagging recommendations.

I've been working on a blog post to try and define the problem mainly with
path and footway, as I see it, but it seems like track is part of
the problem too. Until I have had the time to finish the blog post I'd like
to make a couple of observations.

It's pretty easy to use functional tagging for roads, since I suppose in
each country the official road network, usually classified according to the
importance of the roads, is mapped to the OSM highway tags in one way or
another. Fine, there's usually an official classification to use as a
guideline, however the road looks like on the ground.

When it comes to tracks, cycleways, footways and paths there may or may not
be some kind of official network, depending on where you are in the world.
And I suppose that's where the problem begins. If we are to tag according
to function, it's going to be a mess. A path can be a track, a track can be
a path, a cycleway can be a path, a path can be a cycleway, a footway is a
path. It's a jungle.

And since a mapper often doesn't know about any official classification,
they map everything from tracks to paths from what they see on the ground
and in most cases without subtags.

We need to decide if track, footway, cycleway and path all need to be
tagged according to function, and what that really means, or if we tag like
most mappers would, according to what they see on the ground.

I also agree with Tod that there's a need for more highway tags to make
these distinctions. Many people refer to surface and other tags, but the
thing is that in most cases mappers don't use those subtags. In the blog
post I'm working on, I'm going to suggest a few different solutions that I
see may be possible (new highway tags, new subtag(s), better use and
consensus of existing subtags). We can't use the fact that there are
millions of highway=track, highway=path etc. already mapped as an excuse to
not find a lasting solution to an obvious problem.

But since nobody has any more mandate than any other to make such
decisions, will we ever be able to decide? Sure, that question is a
different issue, but my motivation to contribute to OSM is considerably
decreased by these discussions that lead nowhere. If we don't make tagging
easy for data consumers, then who are we tagging for?


Den ons 10 juni 2020 kl 04:17 skrev brad <bradhaack at fastmail.com>:

> On 6/9/20 7:27 PM, Warin wrote:
> To me in OSM a 'path' has always been too narrow for a motor car (4WD or not) to pass.
> If it is wide enough for a car then it is not a 'path' in OSM so they must be tagged in some other way.
> Descriptions of 'path':
> On 10/6/20 5:53 am, brad wrote:
> "If a path is wide enough for 4-wheel-vehicles (wider than 2 m), and
>     it is not legally signposted or otherwise only allowed for
>     pedestrians, cyclists or horseriders, it is often better tagged as a
>     highway <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:highway>=track <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dtrack> or highway <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:highway>=service <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dservice>.
>     "
>     to this:
>     "If a path is wide enough for 4-wheel-vehicles (wider than 2 m), it
>     is often better tagged as a highway <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:highway>=track <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dtrack> or highway <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:highway>=service <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dservice>.
>     "
> Or possibly:
> A path should not be wide enough for 4-wheel-vehicles (wider than 2 m), for these wider ways see highway <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:highway>=track <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dtrack> or highway <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:highway>=service <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dservice>. <https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway%3Dservice>
> On 10/6/20 10:29 am, Kevin Kenny wrote:
> On Tue, Jun 9, 2020 at 6:13 PM Tod Fitch <tod at fitchfamily.org> <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'.
> In Australia the word 'track' is used in a much broader sense than that used in the OSM wiki.
> The OSM tagging practice in Australia uses 'track' in that same broader sense - so not just agriculture and forestry but also other operators/uses e.g. National Parks.
> Some of these 'tracks' were put in to enable fire fighting - usually locally called 'fire trails'.
> Maps generally show these in the same way as forestry trails hence the preference to tag them the same way in OSM as 'we' are used to seeing them rendered that way.
> +1
> In the western US, most of the rough, 4wd, or high clearance roads on
> federal land are also tagged as track.   They meet the definition in a
> loose way.    It is established practice.
> We're never going to get consensus on this since many of us mappers and
> users think the definition is wrong.  It was written for some other locale
> with different conditions.
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