Consolidation footway cycleway path

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The goal of this page is to consolidate the various pieces of information from the frequent discussions about the different interpretations and contradictory wiki definitions and uses of the tags highway=footway, highway=cycleway, highway=path and access=footway. The idea is to describe the current state, collect the various requirements and solution ideas and develop a general tagging scheme recommendation. Similar to a proposal, but not as a one-man proposal but as a joint effort. If you are interested in resolving the problem, please contribute.

Please do not add comments along the following lines of thoughts as they do not lead towards a general solution:

  • There is no problem, everything is clear to me, we don't need to do anything.
  • There can be no general solution, we must introduce individual native language tags for each country
  • The interpretation XY is wrong, because...

To avoid confusion, the terms footway and cycleway refer to the tags, while foot-way and cycle-way are used for the real life object.

Bridleway should also be considered in a general solution. However, as nobody seems to care about bridleways, no contradictory interpretations have developed.

Current situation

Common basis

This section is for collecting the base of agreed facts/rules that are not disputed.

  • Routes do not influence the highway tag. Waymarked routes should be described with a relation (route=foot/hiking for hiking routes, route=bicycle for cycling routes). The fact that a way is part of a route should not have any influence on the tagging of the way itself. A highway=unclassified or highway=track does not become a foot-way because it is part of a hiking route or a cycle-way if it is part of a cycling route.
  • Anything where
    • walking is not allowed can't be a footway (obvious but significant)
    • cycling is not allowed can't be a cycleway

Contradictory interpretations


  • for road-signed, officially dedicated foot-ways
  • somehow signed or waymarked for pedestrians
  • allowed for pedestrians
  • suitable for pedestrians
  • intended mainly for pedestrians
  • intended for mixed use with primary use pedestrians
  • ambiguity between a pedestrian way alongside a street ('sidewalk' in American, 'foot_way' in English) and a foot_way in general with different proposals already made for each


  • for road-signed, officially dedicated cycle-ways
  • somehow signed or waymarked for bicycles
  • allowed for bicycles
  • suitable for bicycles
  • intended mainly for bicycles
  • intended for mixed use with primary use bicycles
  • ambiguity between a cycle_way alongside a street and a cycle_way in general with different proposals already made for each


  • contradictory interpretations:
    • generic non-road type for use with access tags, preferred over the old foot/cycleway
    • to be used only for mixed-use cases
    • describes a unbuilt single dirt track
  • foot=designated, bicycle=designated
  • same as footway/cycleway
  • for waymarked or roadsigned ways
  • only for roadsigned or otherwise legally dedicated ways
  • also used for highways (e.g. highway=primary) with sidewalks/bicycle lanes alongside them. (Should this be considered an error?)


  • Is a highway=path without any other tags a "unknown trail, possibly no good for pedestrians/cyclists" or is it also a well built, even paved, way that just doesn't have any signs?
    • IMO, it's an unknown trail. With surface=* it becomes known to be a well-built...etc. --Hawke 16:30, 19 August 2009 (UTC)
    • highway=path says "a generic path", i.e. suitability is unknown/unspecified; construction is unknown/unspecified; signage is unknown/unspecified --Waldo000000 03:51, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
  • Is a way "allowed but unsuitable" for cycling bicycle=no?
    • IMO, it should be, but some people want to use access=* for legal restrictions only. --Hawke 16:30, 19 August 2009 (UTC)
    • access=no means "Access by this transport mode is not permitted, they don't have a right of way." So this is not how you would indicate "allowed but unsuitable". I don't know of any way to tag this. "Suitability" is unverifiable, so some would argue that this should not be tagged, and instead only access=yes should indicate "allowed", plus surface=*, etc. should be used to allow users to judge the suitability themselves. IMO, though, access=yes should probably not be used in this case, as it serves no purpose. --Waldo000000 03:51, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
      • Yet up to 30 November 2008 it was "not permitted or unsuitable". It's one of the issues that need to be addressed. Alv 09:45, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
        • Ah, I see. Then I think the implications of "yes" and "no" should be made explicit. E.g bicycle:suitable=yes/no, bicycle:allowed=yes/no, etc. (not sure on syntax). Ideally, the tags should be self-explanatory in their meaning --Waldo000000 22:50, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
          • It should only be legal, because of confusion that arises otherwise. Because a Downhill Mtbiker is also bound to it, but may interpret what is suitable for him on a 20kg MTB with 200mm suspesion front and back, completely different, however has the same legal obligations (not to use ways forbidden for cyclists). Suitability is one of the big big problems to define. Forthmost because you could usually describe it with a myriad of "objective" tags (say surface, incline, gaps, holes, width, scenery,...) or use more generic subjective tags like smoothness, tracktype that attempt to be more or less generic for wheeled use, or go down to tags that are subjective and for one mode of transport only (e.g. mtb:scale / mtb:scale:uphill). In my eyes the only usable solution are subjective tags for each transport mode on top of the other, if one deems them unsifficient - because it is a PITA to describe everything objectively because it will need far too many tags.--Extremecarver 09:09, 11 October 2009 (UTC)


General Requirements

  • describe a way with little information in a general way
  • describe a road-signed way precisely
  • describe detailed conditions with access tags

Differentiation required between

  • describe the difference between wear induced forest trails and built-up sidewalks, without a full set of keys: width, mean_bump_size, minimum_wheel_size, wheelchair, surface, lit, sac_scale, surface:wet, foot_slip_hazard etc. ...
  • where such legislation applies, describe the difference between officially signposted "compulsory use" ways from those that are allowed but not compulsory
    Explanation for those not in such countries and not familiar with such a scheme: Where there are several suitable ways in the direction one is going, but one of them is signposted with a (white cyclist on blue background) cycleway-sign, they may not drive among the cars, nor use the not signposted way (for pedestrians, then) several meters further away from the road. Quite often these cannot be tagged as definite *=no on the ways nearby, as they may still be used when the route to destination diverges from the route that the signposted way takes. In practice I've never seen such requirements being enforced, but maybe it's a common practice in Germany? (Tell us). Additionally, such signs often/in many countries make the ways off limits to other light traffic users, i.e. no horses or pedestrians are allowed on such cycleways, but this factor can be added with *=no, or country defaults.
I have seen enforcement of these rules, but very rarely by a random police patrol stopping a rogue cyclist. Most enforcement is around footways/pedestrian areas with high traffic which are used by cyclists anyway. --Nop 14:47, 3 November 2009 (UTC)

National special cases


Traffic rules for foot-ways, cycle-ways and bridle-ways are very strict and clearly defined. Use of those ways is exclusive for the road-signed modes of travel and it is also compulsory. We require a way to precisely represent these conditions in the OSM DB.

  • This sounds like a good case for using designation= (with - as required - definitions that are correct for Germany). Mikh43 09:18, 17 September 2009 (UTC)


A lot of different paths possible, with various traffic signs. Need access rules for two classes of mopeds as well, which means that country dependent tags are needed because those rules aren't easy for mappers. For that reason, tags based on traffic signs are preferred. Cycleway has a special meaning in traffic code which should align with cycleway tag in OSM (and footway/bridleway likewise), or at least other tags to discern them from other paths. Other tags also needed for special kinds of paths.


There are very few "bike only" paths, and lots of shared paths with no particular priority given to either cyclists or walkers. There are:

  1. Footpaths along the sides of streets, and usually not mapped in OSM. Depending on the state, bikes may use them, or not.
  2. Paths exclusively for pedestrians, and signed as such.
  3. Paths generally for pedestrians, but you can probably ride a bike on it.
  4. Paths designated for pedestrians and cyclists, with no particular priority.
  5. (Rarely) Paths designated for cyclists exclusively, usually with a pedestrian path nearby.
  6. Other cases, like rail trails that horses can use.

Solution attempts

This section is for proposed solutions or partial solutions to the problem. The idea idea is to develop various alternatives and see what gives the best results in the end.

(1) Unjoin designated

Get rid of the idea that cycleway is the same thing as bicycle=designated. Accept that foot/cycleway is fuzzy. Redefine designated to be only used for legally dedicated ways. Likewise seperate foot=designated from footway.

  • If this proposal were to be adopted, I would personally prefer using designation= rather than the value = designated. Mikh43 09:18, 17 September 2009 (UTC)

This way, foot/cycleway can be used for the lenient use cases like today, but designated can be added to indicate a strict use cases.

(2) Introduce official

Leave old tags as they are and accept that foot/cycleway and designated are as fuzzy as described above. Clarify that these tags only give information on possible use, but not about the legal situation. Introduce a new tag biclyce/foot=official to tag the strict use case of road-signed ways or corresponding legal dedication.

This way, nothing needs to be changed in existing fuzzy tagging, but real foot/cycleways are simply tagged by adding an "official" or changing designated to official if appropriate.

This does have the problem of introducing yet another term though. Perhaps clarifying the meaning of "designated" (and, while we're at it, "yes" and "permissive") would be a more worthwhile exercise.

  • This is an interesting proposal and could work - need to consider the roles of designation= and =designated. Mikh43 09:18, 17 September 2009 (UTC)
    • designated means, that there are signs for e.g. cyclistes, which are not official (blue). Example: [1]. Or think about signs for hiking trails (DE:Wanderweg-Symbole). --Plasmon 17:52, 25 October 2009 (UTC)
  • I prefer a solution (2b), where highway=cycleway and highway=footway are not fuzzy. They should be defined as a combination of highway=path + access=*. As the picture on the highway=cycleway page shows a way with an official blue cycleway sign, it should be the same as highway=path + bicycle=official. So a lot of retagging has to be done, but this cannot be avoided, when changing a fuzzy tag to something precise. In Germany, you have to add access=no, to match law, because pedestrians are not allowed on blue signed cycleways. But I prefer this to country specific rules, as there is no experience with this and it will increase complexity for renderers, routers etc. --Plasmon 17:52, 25 October 2009 (UTC)

(3) No implications

Do not make any implications based on existing tags but tag all known facts about a way with individual access tags. This way the legal conditions in each country can be depicted without agreeing on a global definition. The meaning of designated in this context still needs to be defined.

Should implicit legal conditions be within the scope of these tags, and/or even within the scope of OSM in general? What happened to mapping what's on the ground? This would include signage and physical characteristics of the way, but not implicit, local laws. --Waldo000000 23:19, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
  • Not sure whether this would work in practice - still too fuzzy? Mikh43 09:18, 17 September 2009 (UTC)
    • I don't see how this is fuzzy --Waldo000000 22:48, 12 December 2009 (UTC)

This solution can be used to "untangle" the various meanings that have been variously attributed to "footway/cycleway". The following set of tags could be used to explicitly indicate the meaning:

  • tag set:
    • highway=path (deprecate footway and cycleway!!)
    • <vehicle>=yes/no (deprecate unless we are confident that current usage always refers to legal status)
    • <vehicle>:legal=yes/no (e.g. bicycle:legal=* - for those who want to map the law)
    • <vehicle>:signed=yes/no (e.g. bicycle:signed=* - for those who want to map what's on the ground)
    • <vehicle>:suitable=yes/no (e.g. bicycle:suitable=* - for those who want to map suitability)
    • designation=* (official classification, i.e. read from a legal document)

(4) new main class "path"

Why not replace all highway=footway, cycleway, bridleway, path with a new class "path". This could have from the beginning (from now on, that problems are clear from different discussions) a clear definition. The difference to track/service/unclassified would be either a sign (for "signed" or the width (too small for a car).

  • path=signed (for signed paths that have a "foot-way"/bridleway/snowmobile/cycleway/local_xy-way-sign). This should be combined with foot=official, bicycle=official, etc. like the current path. Probably best suitable with local impliciactions (see 5).
  • path=general (for unsigned paths / paths with no sign for the intended use-mode, but created intentionally, e.g. in the mountains)
  • path=informal (for unsigned informal paths, usually very narrow and with no added surface- and foundation-material)

Quite apart from the problem of the mass of existing tagging, which would no longer be 'correct', this proposal doesn't really cope with ways that are not signed but are known by other means (e.g. open information from authorities) to have a particular official status. Signs are also not always correct and can conflict with the legal status implied bythe term 'official'. Mikh43 09:18, 17 September 2009 (UTC)

(5) additional tracking of local implications (e.g. for "official" or "designated" or signed ways/paths)

A parallel wiki-table or database could be kept to track the country-specific implications (according to local legislation). This would serve the routing-providers to get legal routing worldwide with one dataset operable. Hence we could reduce the enormous amount of redundant information resulting from (3). This proposal is additional and could be added to either solution.

  • Not sure whether this is necessary except for nr 3 and perhaps nr 4 - so it might be a good idea or it might rather point us towards solutions nr 1 or nr 2. Mikh43 09:18, 17 September 2009 (UTC)
  • I think if we make a new start, we should make any tags in such a way, that their meaning is the same in all countries. Otherwise all map makers need to resort to different creation processes depending by country, which really makes mapbuilding more difficult. It is however not more work, to tag internationally from the beginning. Also less confusion will arise. Take for example a foreigner tagging somewhere, that doesn't speak the local language. If there is no translation he finds for that countries specific rules (also please not forget that not everyone speaks English)he will tag wrongly, because he has no ability to know the local differences. An example for a very conflicting tag is bridleway- currently in any country completely different in meaning of legal restrictions. Furthermore many bridleways would be dedicated to horsetraffic, but it would not be forbidden, but just be considered bad form to use them on foot/bicycle.--Extremecarver 09:20, 11 October 2009 (UTC)

Matrix of Pros and Cons

Proposal Pros Cons
(1) Unjoin designated
  • Little redefinition required
  • foot/cycleway remains "fuzzy" - fuzzy tags are not good tags
  • people may continue to use foot/cycleway assuming they infer things they would no longer infer
(2) Introduce official
  • Fully downward compatible to existing tags
  • No need to redefine existing tags
(3) No implications
  • Tags are explicit and there is no room for misinterpretation. Using highway=path with *:legal=*, *:signed=* and *:suitable=*, you can infer the meaning directly from the tags!
  • Designated/official are probably no longer necessary (but could still be used if desired for some reason...)
  • There would no longer be a *necessity* for mappers to judge "suitability" or "predominantly used by" rubbish, which we will never unanimously agree on. However, for those who want to map this, it can easily be done with additional tags. We've tried mashing this into the highway=* value, and it HASN'T WORKED
    It worked really well before path was proposed and the proposal discussion ignored. Alv 11:26, 13 December 2009 (UTC)
  • Legality, signage and suitability no longer overlap and interact in complex ways. This is an improvement on the current scheme.
  • Many additional tags needed
    • Only in proportion to the amount of information the mapper wants to provide - as always, and as it should/must be. --Waldo000000 22:59, 12 December 2009 (UTC)
  • Need to retag every way
    • If current tags have been used consistently, this can be done automatically by mapping to the new tag set (even if it's necessary to use a different mapping for each country/area). If current tags have been used inconsistently, then these ways will need to be retagged anyway! --Waldo000000 22:59, 12 December 2009 (UTC)
  • Problem of incompleteness: Will really every mapper set all those tags?
    • Don't underestimate the ability for editors to make this easier. e.g. presets. I particularly like Ctrl+Shift+V in JOSM. --Waldo000000 22:59, 12 December 2009 (UTC)
  • If laws change in a country, many ways need to be retagged. This is perhaps an argument for the "designation" tag, though this has the problem of not having international meaning and therefore problematic to overseas visitors who quickly want to know the rights.
    • Only required if implicit local laws are tagged - I'm not sure that this should be within the scope of these tags. --Waldo000000 23:22, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
    • And, importantly, this solution allows local laws to be separately tagged to all other information, so a change in local laws will not invalidate the meanings of the other tags --Waldo000000 22:59, 12 December 2009 (UTC)
(4) new main class "path"
  • clear distinction of "old" and "new" tags
  • easy separation of highways and paths in routing and rendering
  • clear differentiation of informal, formal and legally signed ways
  • our editors (presets, mappaint), routers and renderer will need some time ;-)
  • The documentation will have to change
  • breaks current system
  • seems to introduce unnecessary complexity. A "highway" in the context of OSM means any way that you can travel along, to completely dispense with it for paths while keeping it for roads does not seem consistent to me.
  • using path=* only allows room for one value. path=signed/general/informal do not seem particularly self-explanatory, explicit or useful. --Waldo000000 23:22, 22 August 2009 (UTC)
you're right, I must have been drunk, I intended "path=footway", "path=cycleway" etc. to distinguish them from current paths, but for this issue it might be more suitable to e.g. automatically add a tag: "old_definition=yes" to all currently existing ways of this kind and delete them manually when checked. --Dieterdreist 16:16, 24 August 2009 (UTC)
(5) Describe observable characteristics

Use a hierarchy of empirically observable characteristics: a cycleway does everything a footway does, plus is suitable for a bike etc. Completely avoid any questions of intent or purpose. Avoid question of usage as much as possible. (Inspired by Richard Fairhurst)

The defininitions are given as a series of precedence: if a highway meets the definition for a track and a cycleway, it's a track, etc.

road etc
wider than a car, with a compacted surface such as dirt, gravel, bitument etc, and which gets some use.
wide enough for a car, but is either not normally driven on, is overgrown, or has no real surface
wide enough for two cyclists to pass each other comfortably, smooth, and with very few steps or other obstacles, including at intersections with roads. (by default, allows bike and pedestrians
a made, surfaced (including gravel and crushed limestone), path for pedestrians (by default allows pedestrians)
any other route that pedestrians (by default) can usefully follow to get somewhere. (by deault allows non-motorised)

Other tags:

indicates signage
bicycle=yes etc
indicates custom or decree


Mailing list discussions

This section is for links to mailing list discussions.

  • OSM-talk, August 2009: [2]
  • Tagging, January 2010: [3]
  • Talk-de, December 2008: [4]

Discussion pages

Other discussions and solution attempts.

Wiki pages

This section is for wiki pages that contain definitions or make statements about this matter. In some cases, the versions in different languages also make different statements.




Wiki pages

Other languages