Tracks and rights of way

Posted by Ed Avis on 22 February 2009 in English (English).

I am staying with my folks in the countryside ( and took the opportunity to walk a few footpaths. A question which arises is whether to map the physical features on the ground or the rights of way. For example, Goyle Acre Lane is a public byway, meaning not only pedestrians and horses but even motor vehicles have a right to use it. Yet for some of the route there is no physical road at all - at best some muddy tyre tracks through a field. For now I have mapped it all as highway=track ('Track road' in Merkaator). Similarly I have added a highway=footway for a public footpath that similarly goes through a field.

On the other hand, in London I often find physical roads which are not rights of way, such as tracks to garages.

What's the correct way to map this distinction?

Location: Membury, East Devon, Devon, South West England, England, United Kingdom

Comment from chillly on 22 February 2009 at 17:10

You can map the physical with highway=track or highway=service etc. Then add an access tag to denote its use such as access=private. You can be more precise with motorcar=yes|no, etc. It's in the wiki map features, though it isn't always easy to find or interpret.

Comment from Circeus on 22 February 2009 at 18:13

The second case is most times a form of highway=service

Comment from Circeus on 22 February 2009 at 18:17

There are also surface=unpaved and highway=unsurfaced tags in use (both are rendered by mapnik, at least in some situations).

Comment from UrbanRambler on 6 October 2009 at 21:37

I use highway=bridleway, which is what it is. This accords with mapping reality as opposed to some inappropriate tag. I agree with highway=footway, which everyone seems to use because there is no means of distinguishing between the physical footway and the abstract route - but it does show a route across fields, etc.
Similarly with 'service' which seems to be a catch-all for everything not covered by the highway tags. This also suffers from the 'nonames' controversy. Private roads such as farms, big houses, industrial estates, gated communities, etc. often have unnamed roads and 'service' is not appropriate in UK parlance. I prefer highway=access and accessto=(whatever the road's for) but would be shouted down if I discussed it on Talk. Best advice I got when I started (not too long ago) is 'just do what you think is right' - it saves a lot of anguish. Don't tag for the renderer, tag for reality. Best of luck with the mapping.

Comment from Ed Avis on 7 October 2009 at 10:47

I think one should use designation=x for the legal status, for example
designation=public_footpath. For a road that exists legally but not physically,
I suppose you could just tag designation and nothing else (though I haven't
done so until now).

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