Now that I have been mapping on OSM for more than a year, I have started to get a better appreciation for the perspectives and concepts surrounding the OSM project. I do, however, continue to reflect on the Western bias of the whole project. In my humble opinion this is most clearly seen in the classification of roads.
A quick scan of the little icons that are attached to the roads classifications show roads and highways familiar in developed countries. The Motorway is a divided highway (called “limited access” in Canada), the Trunk Road is a major route, and Primary seems to indicate a fairly significant route. Secondary and Tertiary are easily identifiable in the Western world as smaller paved roads.
But things are not so clear in Africa. Many roads are residential in town; they turn into a track as they go out into the countryside; and eventually become walking paths. In short, they defy a simple classification. As I entered the discussion with others in the OSM community, I was encouraged to think of the the classification based on the size of the communities connected by the road, rather than the size or condition of the road itself. Fair enough. Based on this, I attempted to organize a reasonable interpretation of the roads for Rwanda (see: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/WikiProject_Rwanda/Motorways)
However, there remain problems (and this, of course, is simply an issue with map making – no drawing will ever adequately portray ‘reality’). I have downloaded the OSM data to my Nuvi, and as I drive I am often confronted by the inconsistencies of simply classifying roads based on the towns they connect. The other day I was on a Tertiary road which showed on the Nuvi as a yellow roadway. There was no indication of the condition of the road, just that it was the shortest route to my destination. In fact, it was such a badly maintained road, I needed to turn back and take a different road. The road quality (or surface) is more important in the African context, but it does not show up in the maps.
Recently, I have noticed some modifications to the road classifications (Track has become Unmaintained Track Road; Unclassified Road has become Minor/Unclassified Road). These two changes will greatly ease the burden of decision making when classifying roads in Rwanda.
In fact, Rwanda is an interesting case study since the roads are being developed at a remarkable pace. City streets are being fixed up; country roads are being fixed up, widened and paved; and plans are in the works for some major highways. Yet, in the countryside, the dirt tracks are still plentiful and for the majority of the population, foot traffic is still the main mode of transportation.
Thank you to OSM for helping us map these features more efficiently. It is exciting to be part of a movement that is mapping the whole world.