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New York minor civil subdivisions - status and progress

As promised, place=region is dead; long live place=municipality.

I’m still working through the details of how to do a mechanically-aided edit to push operator and operator:wikidata down from the boundary onto the seat of government, and then break the admin_centre link. (My usual automate via JOSM tricks won’t quite work, because the API I’m using doesn’t edit relation memberships.) I do not want to do this as two thousand more changesets!

New York minor civil subdivisions - status and progress


Arbitrary population cutoffs were removed from the Wiki for place=* quite some time ago. Mappers weren’t following them at all, and instead using something like the Christaller model that you suggest.

As far as fitting the OSM terms into a Christaller model, I don’t have any source of data for ‘number of people who say they live in a place’. What I have - what all of us have - is census figures, tied to arbitrary polygons. Generally, of course, these polygons follow the political boundaries.

In all these cases of administrative regions/CDP’s, the population - and the source for it - is tagged on the boundary, so that’s unambiguous information about what population was counted, who counted it, and when it was tabulated. (And in all cases in New York at admin_level>6 that’s now the 2020 Census. It appears someone else already did the counties.) That’s really the best any of us can do.

As for the population on place nodes, that pretty much is tagging for the renderer, but it’s information that at least some renderers use. At least, it’s not “lying to the renderer.” population=* on aplace node is asserting “there is an enumeration region of this name containing this point which has the given population.”

It’s not ideal, it’s a starting point. It’s surely better than the mess we have, in which Geneva (pop. <4000) is a city because it has a city charter, while Brentwood (pop. >60000) is a hamlet because its only local government is the Town of Islip. I don’t think we’re going to do significantly better than a somewhat arbitrary framework without a lot more effort than I’ve put into this, and I’ve been working on this project for over half a year at this point.

New York minor civil subdivisions - status and progress

@Minh Nguyen:

I’m ok with a rounder arbitrary threshold with an exception for Saranac Lake. It turns out that “about 5000” seemed like the right level anyway, but I’m equally good with saying “5000, but make sure Saranac Lake is included because of its very high regional importance.”

Your suggestion of border_type to label the type of government that the border bounds is a good one. So good, in fact, that it’s already there. I didn’t trouble labeling Cities, Towns and Villages with CDP since they’re all CDP’s, but you’ll see a handful of just hamlet (mostly dissolved Villages that still have legal boundaries but have devolved to the Town government), CDP (for CDP’s that I know are not governmental at all, like university campuses or unnamed suburban regions like ‘Ithaca Northwest’ or cases where the CDP is misaligned to a political unit and I can’t fix it - as with my home town of Niskayuna), and hamlet:CDP for both the cases that I know are civil subdivisions and the cases where I’m not sure.

I retained City of XXX, Town of XXX and Village of XXX consistently in name=* simply because border rendering looks too weird without it. It’s quite common in New York to have City of Plattsburgh be the chartered city, and Town of Plattsburgh be the remainder of the township, which has its own government. The two governments are independent of each other, and both slot in at admin_level=7, so that’s no guide. It looks really strange to see a rendered political boundary with ‘Plattsburgh’ on both sides!

I did NOT put City of, Town of or Village of on place nodes with only a handful of exceptions. Town of Tonawanda is NOT an accident; it’s actually a name that’s in common use to distinguish it from the adjoining cities of Tonawanda and West Tonawanda. I’m blanking on the name, but there’s also a township in the Finger Lakes that’s named for a village OUTSIDE the town boundaries (the township got subdivided). (That’s one of the ones that got an artificial place=region (to be place=municipality soon) from the (previously non-imported) GNIS entry for the township. Clearly, the Towns that were remainders when Cities were chartered also get this treatment. Town of Hempstead also got handled carefully because of its high significance: Town of Hempstead (admin_level=7) has about 800,000 inhabitants. It likes to bill itself as “America’s Largest Township.” But none of the inhabitants associates with it as a “home town”. If they say that they live in “Hempstead”, they’re talking about the Village of Hempstead within the town, itself a significant suburban city of about 60,000.

In general, it’s hard to deal with place nodes that represent different levels of the administrative hierarchy: the Village of Schoharie within the Town of Schoharie within the County of Schoharie. In general, I retained the smallest place because that’s what people identify with, and kept it as the label of all the same-named objects. It didn’t seem to make sense to have multiple nodes at the same location (and if they’re exactly at the same location, it gives a lot of the electronic tools heartburn. In all the cases I spotted where town and village are named alike (a couple of hundred), residents of the town outside the village generally identify as “coming from” the village or hamlet that they live in - unless they really are in the hinterland, but even then, they’ll often qualify their answer to say that they live outside the village.

If there were tiger:NAMELSAD tags on any of these things, they were gone before I got here. I knew that it was a TIGER import because so many had TIGER in the source tag, but there were no tiger:* tags on any of them. There were a lot of gnis:* tags on the places, and I got rid of them, saving only the feature ID. Nobody needs the redundant information of which state and county the features are in, or the fact that the node represents a “Populated Place”. Most particularly, nobody needs to have every place node state that New York is the 36th state in alphabetical order or that Wyoming County is the 61st county of the state.

It’s an easy enough operation to push operator and operator:wikidata down the admin_centre link. One use case I had in mind for going the other way is, “I just moved to town; where do I go for voter registration, dog licensing, property tax information, etc?” In all cases in New York, the town or city clerk’s office is a starting point. The clerk (an elected position) is the official custodian of records (and the boss of pretty much all the local bureaucrats). I don’t know how easy it would be get that from the OSM data if we were to turn the relationship upside down the way you suggest.

The Harmony of Difficulty Rating Systems

In your second paragraph you mention “exertion level based on length/elevation”. That’s highly dependent on the specific trip, of course, which is why those scales are usually for an outing rather than for a trail. Of course, there are extremes: if you want to visit the Ouluska shelter it’s a 30-km walk from anywhere, but in many cases you can choose your adventure to be as long/short as you have time and stamina to handle. Length and elevation gain are also, of course, measurable if you have a DEM and can drape a trail segment over it.

So the idea of focusing on specific hazards and specific technical demands is a good one. SK53’s list is a good starting point. Locally to me, I might add a few things (beaver activity), and if asked to come up with an overall rating, I think I’d need to separate summer from winter. A relatively straightforward YDS class-3 scramble in summer is an entirely different proposition when it’s glazed with black ice or covered by a metre-and-a-half of snowpack. A lot of entry-level guidebooks to the country around here will say of a trail, “hikeable mid-May to mid-October, best left to the experts outside those times,” while more advanced ones will be more frank about “do you need ice axe and crampons (and likely a rope and helmet) or will ski poles and Hillsound or Kahtoola spikes do?”

SK53’s point that the scales don’t work outside their intended range is also a good one. I don’t understand SAC’s T5 and T6 at all, really. They seem to stumble into the class four is a myth problem - once you’re skilled enough to grade a route like that, you no longer see the difference among the lower grades. Perhaps a mountain guide with extensive experience in assessing the abilities of clients could do a better job?

Everything also falls into the realm of subjectivity - what’s difficult for me might be easy for you, or vice versa. Personality also comes into it. I’ve had some other mappers criticize my trail grading - of trails they haven’t hiked, yet! - and my personal opinion is that they’re serious contenders for the all-European sandbagging title.

My concern is mostly motivated by hiker safety and impact on the land. A lot of my travel is into an area within a couple hours’ drive of New York City, and there are times when it gets invaded by legions of the clueless, too many of whom find themselves totally out of their depth. Some of that is probably unavoidable - they arrive having no idea what a ‘strenuous’ or ‘difficult’ trail is! (Moreover, you can’t fix stupid!) Still, we should do whatever we can to reduce the likelihood of having a party of novices arrive at a spot like steep scramble or even easy YDS 3 with ice starting to form and too little daylight left to go back the way they came.

Meandering streams

Locally to me, many of the small streams in the lowlands change every spring when the snow melts. Some of the third- or fourth-order rivers have changed course significantly in major storm events; in particular, Hurricane Irene in 2011 caused several small rivers in the Catskills to cut new channels.

An interesting side point is that cadastral boundaries often follow the former alignment of watercourses. American law is complicated there; what happens with property lines and political boundaries depends on the process by which the water moved - was it a gradual event or a sudden catastrophe, and did it move from a force of nature, or from human intervention? The field abounds in obscure legal terms: accretion, erosion, avulsion, reliction, and so on.

Don’t even get me started on what happens in beaver habitat! It took me half an hour to walk around this mess, where the beavers flooded the trail (and several hundred metres upstream). beaver dam built in hiking trail

Organizer experience and learnings from State of the Map (SotM) 2021

I know that I and several others were surprised that an online-only event can sell out. Advance publicity ought to have indicated more clearly that seats were limited.The seccondary, read-only video sharing worked well, though.

Why are the Adirondack and Catskill Parks labeled 'national_park' ?

Circeus - It gets even more complicated than that. We have some fairly significant natural areas that are designated by counties or municipalities. In New York, these include many thousands of hectares that New York City has purchased outside its boundaries to protect its water supply. (This is an unusual case. From the point of view of governing law, New York City is a private landowner. It doesn’t export its law to these parcels, which continue to be governed by the county in which they’re situated.)

Moreover, we have a fair number of protected areas that are administered by NGO’s (the Nature Conservancy, the Open Space Institute, the National Audubon Society, the Appalachian Mountan Club and Ducks Unlimited are some of the more significant ones in my area). If State-level protection engenders controversy, imagine what NGO protection dredges up!

Why are the Adirondack and Catskill Parks labeled 'national_park' ?

Richard - Thanks for the vote of confidence! It means a lot, particularly because the tagging of State-level recreational and conservation facilities in the US is embroiled in a rather heated controversy at the moment. Hearing from a European with boots on the ground in both continents is tremendously encouraging, and may go far to deflate the argument that the decision is inconsistent with international practice.

Why are the Adirondack and Catskill Parks labeled 'national_park' ?


I don’t write diary entries often, but sometimes I have repeatedly to deal with the same issue. (The previous entry, about Camp Smith, was to avoid firing the first shot in an edit war.) Demonstrating that you’ve done your homework is important when the you-know-what starts flying. :)

Planned rendering changes of protected areas

When considering the Adirondack Park, also note that it is quite large - larger in land area than, say, Slovenia or Massachusetts. It’s also a private-publc partnership, with only about half the land owned by the state. While IMHO boundary=national_park is entirely appropriate to it, protect_class=2 for the whole thing is not. It contains villages, highways, logging and mining operations, farms, dairies, all of which are very, very tightly regulated by the Adirondack Park Authority. Protect_class=7 is closer, but you tell us that won’t be rendered.

The state lands within and adjoining the park have complex boundaries. They have complex protection status, from Wilderness (no motors allowed, no roadbuilding, facilities only for protection, not for visitors’ convenience, roughly class 1b) through Primitive Area, Canoe Area, Wild Forest (where snowmobiles are allowed), State Forest (logging by contract), Wildlife Management Area, and various types of recreation area. The crazy quilt of boundaries are there, are signed, and are significant to residents and visitors. It’s always going to look untidy. It is untidy on the ground, the result of a great many political compromises.

Even High Peaks Wilderness, taken alone, is bigger than a good many national parks. It’s a walk of about 66 km across it, from Lake Placid to Long Lake. (I know. I’ve had my personal boots literally on that ground.) Suppressing High Peaks Wilderness because it is contained in the Adirondack Park, or suppressing the Adirondack Park because taken as a whole it has too ‘weak’ a protection status, would astonish the locals.

It’s laudable to want to beautify the rendering. Please don’t try to alter what’s on the ground to make the rendering prettier. I’m at a loss for how to make a complex object look good on the map. But it is what it is, and it’s quite lovely indeed in the field!

Trunk in a funk

Question about ‘parkways’ in New York. Many of these (e.g. Grand Central Parkway, Southern State Parkway, Northern State Parkway, Meadowbrook Parkway, Wantagh Parkway, Sagtikos Parkway) are full-up motorways (dual carriageway, access fully controlled) - except that they have low clearances (so HGV can’t make it through a lot of the underpasses) and are signed ‘no commercial traffic’ or ‘cars only’.

Still motorways? Or should they downgrade to trunks? (I’m thinking ‘motorways’ myself.)

Note that this is NOT all state parkways. Examples: Taconic Parkway is a trunk for most of its length (there’s a section north of Hawthorne to where the grade crossings start that I’m ok with ‘motorway’); Long Mountain Parkway is a primary, and Seven Lakes Parkway is (or should be) unclassified.

Also, do you agree with me that the current tagging in is simply nonsensical, whatever we decide? Either it’s a motorway with occasional at-grade crossings (I don’t like but am willing to defer to the community) or it’s a trunk. It isn’t a motorway with 30 m of trunk spliced into it for a grade crossing - that’s a statement, “Just kidding, it wasn’t really a motorway after all!”

Mapping with Strava

There’s one spot that I’ve hiked a few times where my tracing of the trails has been reduced to out-and-out guesswork. The rock is broken and tumbled, with many right-angled fractures, all of which are wonderful corner reflectors for microwaves.

There was a repeatable anomaly in multiple passes of the SRTM data, which causes the spot to appear as a bottomless pit on the elevation data sets:,-74.03053&z=17&b=mbt

And my GPS tracks from a half-dozen traverses of that cliff top are all wonky. Strava shows an amorphous fog surrounding what might be the trails, plus, I strongly suspect, a lot of systematic error.

The trail to the west of the false “bottomless pit” goes for about 100 m under an overhanging cliff face, which doesn’t help.

One of these years, I’m going to have to recruit a few friends and get in there with alidade, plane table, sighting rod and measuring tape, because the only way we’re going to get even half-way decent data for that spot is to do it the old-fashioned way, starting from somewhere that the signals are stable. I keep putting it off, there continue to be places where I’ll get more data for less work.

New York Long Path is the sort of coverage I see for trails that I have mapped. There were a few runners doing a few pieces of that preserve, but most of the trails were unvisited. A hiker would consider them ‘active.’

New York Long Path

Ah! That’ll help for a section or two. Some of the sections have no points on Strava, or a thin enough covering that I’m not sure I trust it. But there’s at least one missing section that I can trace from there, so thanks!

New York Long Path

I don’t have the Strava app (or an account for same), and recall being rather put off it when it asked permission to download my private contact list. Alltrails and Everytrail have nothing on the missing bits.

What am I missing?

I see that you have done data import from NYSGIS. I have an OSM project in mind that also involves NYSGIS data, and I’d like to get in touch with you to hear how you handled licensing issues and the like. (I’m also curious about how you handled the import of “NYS DEC Lands,” since the result doesn’t appear to match very closely with what I now see from NYSGIS.)

Could I trouble you to shoot me an email at so that I’ll have your contact information? Thanks.