[Talk-us] Abandoned railway

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemed.net
Sat Aug 30 17:07:51 UTC 2014

Mike N. wrote:
> Landing on the high plains desert in the west does not make a 
> good case that OSM in the US is broken.  Desert imagery cues 
> do not match those of conventional climates.

I really wish I could agree with you, Mike, but my experience is that ~75%
of the US landmass is like that.

I just randomly alighted on somewhere in Texas. It's the same story.
'highway=residential's that don't exist or are, at best, very faint farm
tracks at the edge of a field. The majority of the "roads" I click on just
aren't there.

Now looking at somewhere random in Missouri. It's better - the geometries
are reasonably well lined up with the imagery. I'd say that around
two-thirds of the roads I'm clicking on are actually roads, and perhaps just
one-third are faint tracks or just non-existent.

The US community (and, dare I mention it, the late NE2) has done really well
cleaning up the major road data. If you're going from somewhere biggish to
somewhere biggish in a car, the routing will generally be good. I can
happily get OSRM to route from town to town and it works fine.

But that's not a map, that's a sparse routing graph. If I pick a random
highway=residential anywhere in the US, I have no confidence that it'll be
drivable in an average car or cyclable on an average bike. I certainly
couldn't expect it to be a road principally for residential access, in the
way that the rest of the world uses highway=residential. And that's without
going into nice-to-haves like rivers and woodland and so on. 

I don't think people realise quite how far behind OSM is in the US (the
biggest cities aside) compared to Western Europe. I can look anywhere in the
Highlands of Scotland, or barely-inhabited Mid-Wales, and OSM will be right.
Sure, some of the rarer footpaths might be missing and the stream geometry
might be a bit skewiff, but most information will be there, and what's there
will be correct. Similarly, la France profonde has come on in leaps and
bounds over the last couple of years. I don't need to tell you about
Germany. :)

Fixing the rural US is eminently achievable, and achievable right now. A
Tasking Manager instance, for a clearly defined project, would be great. I
think you'd get the armchair mappers of the world rallying to the task. If
you wanted to widen participation, you could probably build a
MapRoulette-on-steroids that provided a fast retagging UI within the
browser, with no need to fire up an editor. Or whatever.

But we can't get to OSM's 20th birthday and still have the same problem. It
needs to be fixed sooner or later, and my sense is that, at the current rate
of progress, it will be "later" - probably not within the next ten years.
Let's decide to make it "sooner" instead.


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