You can be more than one kind of geek at the same time, I guess. First and foremost, I am a map geek. This started when I got my first atlas for my 6th birthday. Then came computers, with the arrival of the Commodore 64 I shared with my brothers. Shortly after that came trains. I still have a few thousand slides of stations, trains and railyards in my basement. Also, German and Dutch timetables dating back to 1985.


One of my later railway photos. Berlin Lehrter Stadtbahnhof, summer 1996. This was demolished not too long after to make room for Berlin HBf. Source: Flickr

Roads are a more recent object of geekery for me. Before I moved to the United States, I didn’t drive much. As I started driving (and mapping) more in my new home country, I also started to become more interested in the rich history of the vast road network in the United States. And I am not the only one! It doesn’t take much online searching to find sites like AARoads and CrossCountryRoads containing 1000s of freeway driving images and videos, as well as Facebook groups dedicated to the celebration of U.S. freeways present and past. (I especially enjoy Freeway Jim for its mix of history and current content. And for Utahns, this Flickr account is pretty cool too.)

I thought it might be interesting to start tapping into this road geek community to help us improve OSM. Even in a well mapped state like Utah cough, most freeway exits still don’t have any signpost information except for a ref. To give you an idea: of 1654 total motorway_link ways, only 193 have a destination tag. Even accepting that probably half of these ways are onramps, that’s still a big data gap! And one that sites like AAroads and CrossCountryRoads fill perfectly, with images like this one:


Source: CrossCountryRoads

(If you’re interested, here is the Overpass query for the motorway_link ways with destination.)

After some email exchanges between various US community members and the maintainers of AARoads and CrossCountryRoads, we now have permission to use the images and videos on these sites for mapping. Yay! (I created a wiki page for There is none for AAroads yet, as far as I know.)

I thought I’d try it out myself and share my experiences.

First I pick a region I want to improve. has a list of all the Interstates it has coverage for, sorted by state. No Utah, unfortunately :( Let’s pick I-68 Westbound in West Virginia. I see a neatly organized list of images, mostly covering exits. Excellent!


Source: CrossCountryRoads

Next, I load all motorway_link ways as well as all motorway_junction nodes for West Virginia into JOSM. (Perhaps overkill, but I am not an Overpass expert..).


The result looks a little bit like one of those flight tracking web sites :)


The first exit is to the WV Welcome center and a rest area.


Source: CrossCountryRoads

I zoom / pan to where I-68 enters West Virginia from Maryland and quickly find the exit, and add the destination:


I also check the motorway_junction node for any irregularities (such as deprecated exit_to tags and missing / wrong ref numbers):


I will delete this exit_to tag. Does anyone know if noref is a thing?

With the edits done, I upload the changeset. Be sure to attribute the source - in this case CrossCountryRoads:


Then I move on to the next exit and map some more!

To check your progress and the state of tagging on freeways in general I warmly recommend the Autopista tool by fellow mapper k1wi:


Comment from k1wi on 6 November 2015 at 14:38

That’s nice!

You can see your progress with my tool: CheckAutopista2:

Comment from mvexel on 6 November 2015 at 18:08

thanks for reminding us of Autopista, a great tool if you ask me.

Comment from mvexel on 6 November 2015 at 18:17

updated the post to include a reference!

Comment from Baloo Uriza on 6 November 2015 at 21:26

I’d throw junction:ref on the same way as the destination=* tag. I realize in theory it’s rare to need that level of disambiguation but in practice, there’s enough mutually split (such as the end of a long ramp where a “C,D,E” of a multi-ramp exit split), left, or some central lane (still can’t believe Oregon actually made lanes 1,2 and 4 the through lanes, and lane 3 an exit only lane where OR 8 splits from US 26 westbound; that one being the weirdest of the “not leftmost/rightmost-lane exit” situations I’ve seen).

Comment from nmixter on 7 November 2015 at 01:39

Too bad the initial photos can’t be geocoded. Then they could be imported directly into JOSM and viewed right on the map.

Comment from Jonathan ZHAO on 9 November 2015 at 20:53

wonderful works!

Comment from abbafei on 17 December 2015 at 04:04

Another wonderful resource for freely-licensed pictures of roads (especially for Pennsylvania and surrounding areas) is Doug Kerr’s Flickr. The photos are not actually geocoded, however, they still are very useful for those familiar with an area due to the meticulous categorizing.

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