Highway tag usage

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It is sometimes useful to adapt highway tag usage to the local physical conditions. In many places there will be a reasonably clear and preferred mapping between the local administrative road classification system and the appropriate highway tag in OpenStreetMap. See Highway:International equivalence for country-by-country recommendations. In some situations it is however appropriate to base the tag value on the physical attributes of a highway:

  • The official classification for the road is not known or easy to establish.
  • The administrative classification for a road does not match the physical attributes for some historical reason.

Caution: Please do not choose a road classification in order to get the 'right' colour on the map. The colour on the map is defined by the map rendering software. Standard OSM mapnik rendering is based in 'Bristish' road map colours (blue for the fastest roads and orange for minor through-routes). Please do not tag the fastest roads as 'secondary' in other places to get the 'right' colour because this will confuse routing software which will avoid these roads believing them to the less attractive to motorists than they are.


See also: Highway:International equivalence
Tag Examples Comments
For limited-access restricted divided highways. Including Motorways (UK), Autobahns (D), Interstate highways (USA). See table below for international equivalents.
highway=motorway link
For linking roads to, from or between motorways beyond the point where non-motorway traffic can join or leave the link or other roads where motorway rules apply.
highway=trunk For inter-regional routes that are not motorways. Often limited-access divided highways for general traffic, but sometimes undivided. Official "primary routes", for example of roads with green road signs and which appear in green in most maps in the UK. This classification is largely unused in some countries.
highway=trunk_link For linking roads to, from or between trunk roads beyond from the point where traffic is required to join or leave a trunk road. In the case of a trunk road linking a trunk road to a motorway the link should be tagged as motorway_link. This classification is largely unused in some countries.
For major routes which are not motorway or trunk. Primary roads often have traffic signals and housing/retain/industry with direct access.
highway=primary_link For link-lanes to, from or between primary roads beyond the point where traffic is required to join or leave a primary road. In the case of a linking road to a higher class of road this section should be tagged using the higher class equivalent.
Typically one lane each direction, wide enough for 2 passenger cars with less long distance traffic. For example 2nd class (CH), B Road (UK)
For minor roads connecting settlements which are mainly used for local traffic. For example: C Road (UK) (albeit hard to identify, normally a minor road >4m wide and with white dashed lines down the centre).
For the narrowest paved public highways. Sometimes only one lane with passing places. For example: 3rd class (CH), unclassified(UK). Note: Use highway=unknown for roads where the classification can not be determined, but 'Unclassified'.
For roads in primarily residential areas that are not of a high classification. Roads of a higher class in residentially can be tagged with highway=residential.
highway=pedestrian For streets available only to non-motorised traffic, sometimes only pedestrians. Often lined with shops or other facilties. Use this tag with area=yes for pedestrians square, plazas or piazzas.
highway=footway For paths that are only available to pedestrians that are not as wide as streets and which are typically not lined with buildings, shops etc.
For flights of steps.
For paths suitable for cyclists and possibly also pedestrians.
highway=bridleway For paths available for pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders