Access tagging ambiguity

I’ve been trying to gain a better understanding of access tagging and I’ve realized there are some tag combinations of the designated, private, customers, and permit values where the meaning is not clear to me. How do you interpret the meaning of the following three tag combinations?

Example 1: A designated snowmobile trail where a permit is required.

Since snowmobile=designated + snowmobile=permit is not a possible tag combination, access=permit + snowmobile=designated seems reasonable. However this has two possible meanings:

  1. Access is allowed for a permit holder riding a snowmobile.
  2. Access is allowed for either a permit holder using any transport type or a snowmobiler without a permit.

Example 2: A ski area where customers pay to use designated ski trails

Again ski=designated + ski=customers is not possible, but access=customers + ski=designated could mean either:

  1. Access is allowed for a paying customer on skis.
  2. Access is allowed for a paying customer using any transport type or a skier who is not a paying customer.

Example 3: A private club with designated ATV (quad bike) trails

atv=designated + atv=private is not possible, but access=private + atv=designated could mean either:

  1. Access is allowed for a club member on an ATV.
  2. Access is allowed for a club member using any transport type or an ATV rider who is not a member.

If the second meaning in each of these examples is how the tags should be interpreted, then how should one represent the first meaning in tagging? How can the fact that a way is designated for a certain transport mode but also restricted to a certain group of people be tagged?


these examples are not complete, designated may or not exclude other means of transport, it depends on the legislation in the place and if it is not clear alone, you can always add additional access tags for specific means of transport.
Your examples 2 and 3, private area, generally means there is no “legal” access restrictions, e.g. foot traffic on the atv track could be fine or not however they want (and could be changed at any time), similarly for the ski track.
Example 1, should be amended, e.g. foot=permit or foot=no, etc.

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So you are saying that the only way to truly clarify the situation is to explicitly tag each transport type? So for example 1: snowmobile=permit + foot=no + bicycle=no etc, etc for all the values? That certainly makes it clear what is and is not allowed, but it still leaves no way to specify that the trail is designated for snowmobiles since the snowmobile key is used for permit.

I have never seen a way for snowmobiles and cannot tell you about specific tagging, and what people usually expect from a designated snowmobile way, “designated” access is not telling you generally who else can use a way or cannot, it only has special meaning if foreseen by the jurisdiction, e.g. bicycle=designated may exclude foot traffic or not, according to where it is tagged.
This page explains the usage of designated
it suggests the combination with access=no if the designated usage is exclusive

I would say in all three examples, you should use the more restrictive of the access tags. If you have a snowmobile=designated, anyone may use it. If you have snowmobile=permit, only permit holders may use it. Same for ski=designated vs ski=customers, customers is more restrictive than designated.

Like you say, if you use access=customers + ski=designated that means all other access is customers, but ski is designated, which is less restrictive than customer-only access.

In example 3, what you want is probably access=private if it’s all private. If you want to be explicit, you can access=private + atv=private, though that is redundant as atv is covered by the general access restriction.

My question is not about what designated means. That is clear to me. The question is also not about specific tagging for snowmobiles. That is just one of the examples to illustrate the point. The question is how to tag both that a way is designated for a specific transport mode and that it is restricted to those who have a permit, customers, or private usage.

means only snowmobiles with permit.
There is no need for designated here.
The others can be tagged similarly.

Here is an example where designated is sometimes needed, in Germany:
bicycle=yes (means a footway where you can ride your bicycle but pedestrians are prioritized and you may only drive a walking speed)
with bicycle=designated it means bicycles and pedestrians have the same rights

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Well that’s certainly one way to look at it. Clearly I see a need, or else I wouldn’t have made the post.

So take this example, but add the fact that a permit is required (for all access). So we can change it to


But now we’ve lost information. It is no longer clear that the way is designated for pedestrians over cyclists. A situation where tagging like this would be required would be a National Forest trail managed primarily for hiking (foot=designated), but where mountain bikes are also allowed, and where a permit is required for all usage.

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I think, you are on to something: Designated always aims at the general public.

You may understand it, as something, where there is a sign, that tells passers-by about the intended usage of some feature. That is also what I read from the Wiki in its current prose. That, by itself, has nothing to do with access, in the OSM sense, who may use the feature. No wonder “designated” clashes with other so called acess tags.

Maybe a conditional to the rescue, e.g: designated @ ( permit ) ?

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I would maybe question that. There is no general tag to tell that a track is used for snowmobile in winter except snowmobile=designated. Am I right?

For skiing, having piste:type=nordic or downhill + an access tag is much easier to understand.
Maybe something like piste:type=snowmobile or an equivalent tag would convey the snowmobile designation better?

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access= is legal restriction, not anything esle. =designated does not mean priority.

You can use highway=footway here.

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This is not ambiguous. Your other interpretation is not possible. access= is already treated as to be overridden by individual modes. You should use snowmobile=permit, ski=customers, and atv=private respectively.

An official trail might be represented by route= =snowmobile, =piste (and/or piste:type), and =atv. The construct of a road should be on highway= (viz =track) and related.

I do prefer :conditional=* @ (permit) over =permit, but I don’t see this as a “clash” per se as @Hungerburg.

Perhaps some ideas from parking lane tagging could be borrowed for snowmobiles. Something like


(Like parking:condition=no_stopping rather than conditional)

This also seems analogous to tagging a situation like bus=designated + bus:lane=yes|designated + turn:lanes=yes|no, where a roadway is designated for buses but more nuance is needed to explain other vehicles can use a lane of it for turning.

I don’t know much about snowmobiles, but a lot of other vehicles can be tagged with subkeys relating to extremely specific access and condition configurations. Putting aside disagreements about what designated and permit tags are for, maybe snowmobile mapping hasn’t been taken to the level of detail possible yet since it seems like there are more options to tag complex situations involving other vehicles

My non-serious idea would be to tag it as a tollway for snowmobiles


note that in current tagging it would miss info that access requires ordinarily granted permit

I would rather use new tag for “and it is a designated snowmobile route” (and often it can be marked with route relations!)

There is the designation key.
Could adding designation=snowmobile/ski/atv be a solution?

The thing about leaving things up to interpretation is that different people will have different interpretations. So yes, it is possible. Perhaps you meant to say that, in your opinion, the other interpretation (number 1 in each example) is incorrect. I happen to agree, but floated the question to see if there is consensus or not. I find that the documentation is somewhat ambiguous, and would like to improve it if possible.

I have considered designation= for this purpose. However, it is intended for cases where there is a clear legal classification. For a case where the land manager has designated a trail for a specific transport mode, but no government authority has legally classified it, tagging designation=<transport mode> would seem to dillute the intended meaning of that tag. If the community is open to an expansion of this tag’s meaning, then that could work.

That is the direction I am leaning as well. =designated is kind of weird as an access tag value because it isn’t just about access. Specifying that a way is designated primarily for a certain transport mode is a separate piece of information than specifying who and what is legally allowed to use a way.


well. access=designated is just about “designated under legal access aspects”.

I really would like to understand what you mean by this, but as far as I can tell it sounds like you are saying =designated means the exact same things as =yes – essentially the value serves no purpose.

usually yes, designated means the same as yes, but there are cases where it is more than just yes, I gave an example above of the usage in Germany to distinguish a designated bicycle path from bicycle allowed (also has implications that the designated path may be mandatory)