Key:surface

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Public-images-osm logo.svg surface
Transportation in Tanzania Traffic problems.JPG
Description
Describes the surface of a feature. Edit or translate this description.
Group: Properties
Used on these elements
may be used on nodesmay be used on waysmay be used on areasshould not be used on relations
Documented values: 38
Useful combination
Status: de facto

The surface key is used to provide additional information about the physical surface of roads/footpaths and some other features, particularly regarding material composition and/or structure.

Originally concerned about the surface in relation to transport and sports and more commonly used on linear features, this key is now increasingly used with certain areas of type natural=*. Note, however, that the values of natural=* and surface=* must not be confused, e.g. natural=grassland vs surface=grass and natural=glacier vs surface=ice. For broader descriptions of surfaces see Landcover.

Values

Key Value Element Comment Photo

Paved

surface paved way area A feature that is predominantly paved; i.e., it is covered with paving stones, concrete or bitumen. This value gives only a rough description; use a more precise value if possible.
surface asphalt way area Short for asphalt concrete - mineral aggregate bound by asphalt. Most such features are tagged as paved without specifying exact surface. Surface asphalt.jpg
surface chipseal way area Less expensive alternative to asphalt concrete, using a thin base of hot bitumen or asphalt with aggregate pushed into it. Common in many American countries and Oceania. Often hard to distinguish from asphalt concrete by laypersons so many chipsealed roads are tagged as asphalt instead. Chipnseal.jpg
surface concrete way area Cement based concrete, forming a large surface, typically cast in place and may have predetermined breaking joints. For pre-fabricated plates, please use concrete:plates or concrete:lanes if you know how the concrete is laid out and one of these tags fits. Magallanes, ruta 9, 2.jpg
surface concrete:lanes way area Long, narrow concrete elements for a two-tracked vehicle (motorcars) so that the tires always hit the concrete. There might be sand, ground, grass, pavers, asphalt, etc. in between them. Note that if you tag a single-tracked way you just use concrete, since there are no lanes. Concrete lanes.png
surface concrete:plates way area Heavy duty concrete plates placed closely together. Might have tar, sand or grass in between the connections. Geograph-3131358-by-Richard-Humphrey.jpg
surface paving_stones way area A relatively smooth surface paved with artificial blocks (block pavers, bricks) or natural stones (specifically, flagstones), with a flat top. The gaps between individual paving stones are very narrow, either because the stones have a perfectly regular shape (rectangular, or any surface-filling shape) or because they have been carefully selected, fitted and placed in order to form an even, closed surface. Mix of paving stones IMG 20200910 163455.jpgSquare paving stones.jpgIndian sandstone paving slabs for patio garden.jpg
surface sett way area Sett paving, formed from natural stones cut to have a flat top, with a regular or irregular shape. The stones do not cover the surface completely, unlike paving_stones. Granite Setts.jpgKohlenbrennerbrücke, sett paved white lines 01.jpgPflastersteine 1.jpg
surface unhewn_cobblestone way area Raw cobblestone of natural, uncut, rounded stones. Unlike pebblestone, the stones are firmly connected to the ground. Ancient road surface.jpg
surface cobblestone way area Generic value for cobblestone in the colloquial sense. It's better to use a more precise value such as sett or unhewn_cobblestone Granite Setts.jpgAncient road surface.jpg
surface cobblestone:flattened way area Should not be used to avoid confusion with sett or unhewn_cobblestone. It is neither a commonplace description nor a correct name.
surface metal way area Used for metal-surfaced bridges, or for temporary tracks over fields for normal road vehicles or site traffic (note that objects lasting for just a few days should not be mapped in OSM).

Not used for road metal in the sense of crushed, quarried rock.

Tread chrome metal.jpgMetal footbridge over Sand Quarry - geograph.org.uk - 1325566.jpg
surface wood way area Used for wood surfaced bridges, plank walkways, and garden decking Bridge-path-straight-wooden (24029070260).jpg
surface stepping_stones way area Stones or plates individually arranged in a row, allowing to walk on, surrounded by an unpaved medium such as grass or water Stepping stones - geograph.org.uk - 832601.jpgRiver Rothay stepping stones 120508w.jpg
surface user_defined way area All commonly used values according to Taginfo.

Unpaved

surface unpaved way area A feature that is predominantly unsealed (unpaved); i.e., it has a loose covering ranging from compacted stone chippings to earth. Unpaved roads may, in aerial imagery, show evidence of water along their course; in such circumstances, the waterway should not be tagged as a stream, though it might appear as such. This value gives only a rough description; use a more precise value if possible.
surface compacted way area A mixture of larger (e.g., gravel) and smaller (e.g., sand) parts, compacted (e.g., with a roller), so the surface is more stable than loose gravel. Used, for example, for park paths, better tracks, some service ways, … Best sort of ways below paving with asphalt, concrete, paving stones. Sometimes known as water-bound macadam. Mixture and compacting leads to more grip and stability. Compacted forest track no1.jpg
surface fine_gravel way area A multilayer pavement with a stone or gravel basis and a topmost surface of firm, granular grit, basalt or quartz, as invented by the Roman empire. Easy to walk, jog, cycle or ride on. In hilly areas mostly with drainage channels and concave cross-section for proper water shedding. Motorized vehicles will not move stones if the way is maintained properly, and bicycles tires will not leave any imprints at least in dry weather. If the topmost surface is eroded or loose gravel aggravate please use gravel instead. DSC05537a-Feinschotterweg.jpg
surface gravel way area This tag has very large meaning range. Used for cases ranging from huge gravel pieces like track ballast used as surface, through small pieces of gravel to compacted surface. Štěrková cesta u Pláštíku.jpg
surface rock way area Big pieces of rock used to improve path quality or exposed bare rock, including trails across natural=bare_rock. Typically in mountainous areas. Cascade canyon trail teton 20190713 095423 1.jpgTrail in Tatra mountains paved with local rocks.jpg
surface pebblestone way area Pebbles are stones rounded by waves or river flow. Typical size range from 2 to 8 cm. Describing a surface in OSM they are loosely arranged. Like gravel pebbles can be used as a building part of compacted. Dscf1781-800.jpgDscf1829-800.jpgDscf1831-800.jpg
surface ground way area No special surface, the ground itself has marks of human or animal usage. This value gives only a rough description; if possible, use a more precise value such as grass, clay, sand, earth, gravel or pebblestone. Gfp-florida-big-shaols-state-park-forest-trail.jpg
surface dirt way area Used for where surface is exposed earth/soil/dirt but it is not sand or gravel or rock. Gravel is sometimes mistakenly called dirt. Some compacted surfaces are sometimes called "dirt" too, please consider the definition of compacted. Transportation in Tanzania Traffic problems.JPG
surface earth way area Used for where surface is exposed earth/soil/dirt but it is not sand or gravel or rock. The same meaning as dirt. Dscf1832-800.jpg
surface grass way area Grass covered ground. Mostly nice to walk. May turn into surface=dirt or become overgrown and disappear. Grass path on field 20160719.jpg
surface grass_paver way area A sort of permeable paving using regular cell structure, where the voids in this structure enable rainwater to drain into the ground and the structure itself increases the load bearing capability. Often used for parking lots or infrequent used ways like for emergency-vehicles. Dscf1611-800.jpgDscf1614-800.jpg
surface mud way area Similar to ground but most of the year wet which gives a soft ground with low carrying capacity. Mostly found on wetland like swamps or in tidal areas. Sometimes also found on slopes draining onto a way. Muddy Path - geograph.org.uk - 3017448.jpg
surface sand way area Small to very small fractions (less than 2mm) of rock. Sand Way.jpg
surface woodchips Woodchips as a surface, perhaps for a playground or walking trail. Can consist of either chips of actual wood, or of bark only. Sometimes written as wood chips. Tanner Moor 2 (DFdB).jpg
surface snow way area Winter roads surfaced with compacted snow.
surface ice way area Ice roads, winter roads Jaatee2003.jpg
surface salt way area Dry salt lakes 2012.10.02.155200 Bonneville Salt Flats Utah.jpg
surface user_defined way area All commonly used values according to Taginfo.

Special (sports, etc.)

surface clay way area Most common on tennis courts. Sometimes used for other sports: soccer, athletic tracks, boules, etc. EVD-tenis-212.jpg
surface tartan way area A synthetic, all-weather surface typically used in running and other sport tracks. Although Tartan is a trademark, it is used as a generic term due to its widespread usage. Athletics track.jpg
surface artificial_turf way area An all-weather surface made from synthetic fibres to look and feel like natural grass. Often used for tracks and pitches of sports such as football, baseball, etc. Kunstgress.JPG
surface acrylic area An artificial surface covered with acrylic resin-bound coating. Often used for tennis courts, basketball courts, etc. Prominent brands include: DecoTurf, GreenSet and so on. Court Arthur Ashe.jpg
surface metal_grid way area Metal grids are often used as a surface on industrial-style bridges or stairs. When wet, the surface can become very slippery, especially for bikes. The surface can also be unsuitable for dogs, due to the sharp edges and the look-through effect. This surface is sometimes known as metal grate, metal grating, steel grate/grating, or open grate. Stahlbau mit Gitterrosten.JPG
surface carpet way area Carpet may be used for some sport courts such as indoor tennis courts and appear on some highway=corridor. Korty power game.jpg
surface user_defined way area All commonly used values according to Taginfo.

This table is a wiki template with a default description in English. Editable here.

Surface for motor roads

For roads for motor vehicles there there is typically an assumption that the surface is surface=paved unless otherwise stated. Paved in OpenStreetMap is non-specific and may cover sealed, tarmac, asphalt, bitumen. surface=unpaved is treated as the opposite of paved. More specific tags can be used for surfaces which are normally classified into paved or unpaved for routing purposes. Navigation software should assume that roads-that-are-not-paved will have slower driving speed (and therefore longer driving time) and may be impassable in some weather conditions.

On paved roads, tags more specific than surface=paved are also welcomed - for example surface=asphalt.

smoothness=* is also an important surface property and refers to surface regularity/flatness, regardless of material. May be especially useful for roller blades and similar purposes.

tracktype=* is also an important surface property and refers to surface firmness, regardless of shape.

highway=* ways should ideally always be tagged with surface (and/or with tracktype=*) given that there is no default for such paths.

Rendering software convention varies, but generally roads-that-are-not-paved are shown in a different colour but same width as their paved cousins or use the same colour but are dashed. Rendering of road surface in standard OSM style is a complicated subject.

In some cases when other tags are not sufficient to describe the road conditions good enough the use of smoothness=* and maxspeed:practical=* can be considered. maxspeed:practical=* can be useful in situations where other tags are not sufficient to describe what kind of traveling speed could be reasonably expected. If there is one good surface=unpaved road, where practical speed is 60 km/h, and a second bad road with concrete:lanes surface allowing a practical speed 10 km/h, users or routing software could be misguided to choose the second road for routing, because by default paved roads are assumed to allow much higher speeds than unpaved roads.

Surface for footways and cycleways

If a footway or cycleway was tagged as a tag (not as a separate way) on a highway (i.e., highway=secondary + cycleway=track/lane), you can add surface by the following syntax:

sidewalk:surface=paving_stones

Or if there is a foot- or cycleway only at one side from street, or there are different surfaces at both sides, you can use right and left (or both, to tag explicit both sides):

cycleway:right:surface=asphalt
cycleway:left:surface=paving_stones

See cycleway:right=* / cycleway:left=* / cycleway:both=* for more examples.

With this syntax you also can add other relevant tags like: smoothness=*, oneway=*, bicycle=*, foot=*, width=*, segregated=*, and more.

Object that may be tagged as two separate highway=footway and highway=cycleway, each with its own surface=* or as one way that requires cycleway:surface=asphalt for specifying surface

In case of segregated cycleway+footway tagged as a single line where each has a separate value, footway:surface=* + cycleway:surface=* can be used.

Default values

There are no default values for surface, it is generally considered as OK and desirable to tag it explicitly for all roads. In case of missing surface=* data consumers may sometimes successfully guess values based on location of object and values of highway=*, lit=*, tracktype=*, tiger:reviewed=no and other tags[1][2][3].

Data consumers may also treat untagged surface specially (for example display "no data" in surface statistics listing).

Note that in some areas assuming that paved surface is default may be dangerous.

Uses

The primary use is navigation. A router for bicycles could avoid an otherwise normal road that is tagged as having surface=sand. For vehicles, the router might tie-break by preferring a slightly longer asphalt route over a earth/compacted/gravel/cobblestone route. Pedestrians probably also prefer any paved value over a potentially muddy footpath. The tag can furthermore be used to use the right texture when rendering, for example to indicate which ways are unpaved.

See also

References

  1. https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/tagging/2019-September/048330.html
  2. https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/tagging/2019-September/048338.html
  3. https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/tagging/2019-September/048355.html "Ultimately, where information is missing, you as a data consumer will need to make a decision about whether or not a road is likely to be paved or not. Adding a default (even per-country) won't magically make all non-surface-tagged roads paved or unpaved"