OpenStreetMap

What does the path say?

Posted by Richard on 7 November 2013 in English (English)

Cycleway goes whoosh:

cycleway

Bridleway goes splush:

bridleway

Footway goes plod:

(urban) urban footway

(rural) rural footway

BUT WHAT DOES THE PATH SAY?

Any and all of the above. Tarmackytarmackytarmackytar. Grassy grassy grass grass grass. Cobble cobble cobble cobble. Narrow broad narrow broad. Gra-gra-gra-gra-gra-gra-gravel.

Like the moo of a cow, everyone knows what a highway=cycleway means. Yes, there are variations. Lots of them. But in the absence of any other supporting information (like a surface tag), you can make an assumption that the above pic probably won't be too far wrong.

But just like no-one has heard a fox, no-one knows what a highway=path means. It could be anything.

So if you are using highway=path because "it makes it easier for data consumers", it doesn't. It makes it a pain in the arse for data consumers. Right now I am consuming data for a cycling router and highway=path is the bane of my life. When I see "highway=cycleway" it's a safe bet I can route a bike down there, whereas when I see "highway=path; bicycle=yes" then maybe a bike might want to go there, or maybe it's a steep drop over a precipice with a rocky surface but, by some quirk of arcane legislation, bikes are allowed.

For the love of God, if you must use highway=path, please, please, please, please add a surface tag with a commonly-used value.

And then we'll actually know what the path says.

Comment from Vclaw on 7 November 2013 at 13:36

What about purpose built mountain bike trails?

And by "some quirk of arcane legislation", many countries have a right to cycle just about everywhere. its just England and Wales with arcane restrictions.

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Comment from Richard on 7 November 2013 at 13:43

That's absolutely it. highway=cycleway tells you it goes "whoosh" and you can cycle on it; it works in E&W and elsewhere. highway=path and an access tag doesn't tell you it goes whoosh in any country.

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Comment from Vclaw on 7 November 2013 at 14:02

So should highway=cycleway only be used for smooth/paved paths you can cycle along?

It is currently also used for mountain bike trails with rocks, mud and steep drops etc.

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Comment from Richard on 7 November 2013 at 14:16

Only if you add meaning with surface/tracktype tags. Tagging, say, the 7Stanes and Coed-y-Brenin trails with highway=cycleway and nothing else would be misleading - there would be nothing to differentiate it from the common-or-garden urban cycleway or Sustrans rail trail. Happily, they do indeed appear to have surface/tracktype tags.

That's the point here. highway=cycleway has implicit meaning; look at 90% of cycleway usage in OSM and it means more or less the same thing. But if you want to overrule that implicit meaning, you can do so.

highway=path doesn't have implicit meaning, other than "here is a path of indeterminate construction". Unless you supply the meaning with both access and surface/tracktype tags, it's pretty much useless.

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Comment from Diomas on 7 November 2013 at 23:22

IMHO, last photo is highway=path (not a rural highway=footway).

highway=path is not a road or a footway created by someone, but just a way were many people walk (or many bikes ride, or whatever), so the grass stopped to grow there, or the dust became more compacted and the way became visible. So the surface is supposed to be ground (at least by default).

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Comment from Tordanik on 8 November 2013 at 07:28

@Diomas: No, highway=path has nothing to do with "informal" paths - use informal=yes for that. The "path" value can be used for for basically all sub-car highways. Based on the original definition of higway=path, you could technically replace all highway=footway/cycleway/bridleway with highway=path (although the article explains why this might not be a good idea).

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Comment from Tom Chance on 8 November 2013 at 09:16

Richard, I love this post :-)

highway=path was a stupid, completely pointless invention that has served to make the data less useful, not more.

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