Community opinion on private tagging, contributor credibility

I’m posting at the suggestion of user Zelonewolf regarding community opinion on blanket private tagging of roads. I’ve lurked on these forums a fair bit but this is my first time posting so if I have missed a piece of etiquette or posted in the wrong category, I would appreciate correction!

The issue at hand regards the tagging of roads as private. The specific location is Hog Island in Portsmouth Rhode island.
Previous discussions have advised tagging these types of roads as permissive, rather than private. Locking access to private prevents wayfinding applications that use OSM from creating routes along commonly used roads. Permissive seems to be the right balance, even though the roads are not owned by the island’s residents.

When updating these roads myself, I grabbed pictures of the street signs and made small talk with a couple of the residents I met that were out working in their yards. I encountered nothing to indicate that foot traffic was unwelcome. Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation on the island, and the roads and paths are used by all. I was confused as to why any of these would be marked as private, but Zelonewolf has claimed that he had correspondence with a resident. This did not strike me as entirely forthcoming.
I would suggest that a single unsourced resident’s opinion does not change factual documents and actual first-hand experience. Town plat maps do not show any of these roads as being privately owned. No signage I encountered indicated any private roads, the closest being “Please do not ride golf cards in this area” on a section of path in the northwest.

For some outside context regarding credibility, it is my understanding that a disagreement centers on the use of two running applications supported by OSM, Citystrides and StreetFerret. I have no controlling interest with either, am a paid subscriber of CS for the visual map, and some time ago was gifted access to SF which has terrific data functionalities. Both really great tools.

Zelonewolf believes that I make OSM edits hidden behind a different username, which is easy enough (I think?) to disprove with the permission of the other user involved, Streetsurveyor. I actually shared (also with their permission) a screenshot of the Strava messaging from that user in an effort to get some positive resolution in a private setting, but it proved unproductive. If anyone cares, my OSM edit history is going to march chronologically with my public Strava account. How else do you prove a negative? Suggestions welcome here, but it feels unfair and unprofessional to be accused of this, when I get messages from others complaining about Zelonewolf’s edits. In an effort to be a peacemaker I offered discussion over private messaging, and the response I received seemed disproportionate.

Zelonewolf is open about his ownership of StreetFerret. I think that it is against best practices to allow a situation wherein a contributor with first-hand experience and documentable evidence has their map work dismissed by someone in a position of power, with a potential conflict of interest and the ability to add / remove public data to benefit his personal property. If there is a Street Ferret issue that arises because the data is inconvenient, that is a Street Ferret problem, not an OSM problem.

Outside this particular issue, we should appreciate Zelonewolf’s efforts. It probably feels like a thankless janitor’s task to him, and personal experience gives me some empathy in this area.

So, apologies for an essay, but is strict private tagging warranted here or does the first hand experience backed by hard documentation make a better case? Permissive a fair compromise to no restrictions? Can someone help me resolve a misunderstanding with identities? Any contributions to the topic are greatly appreciated!

Edit: new users can only post 3 links, if anyone wants additional info I can link them to, please ask!

Ownership is a matter of public record, and in this case it appears that you erred in reading the town’s maps. The plat maps only show how land is divided; it doesn’t (generally) show who the owner is. And if land is privately owned, the owner gets to dictate who is allowed on it.

In the Portsmouth plat map for Hog Island, plat 172 (which covers the whole island that isn’t covered by one of the lots) has noted next to it “Hog Island, Inc”. So in other words, a private owner. Now, if you cruise over to Portsmouth’s tax assessor database, you’ll find that plat here, which lists the owner, to no surprise, as “Hog Island, Inc.” You can confirm that this is the matching plat because (a) it has the same plat number and (b) one of the buildings on that listing is the island’s boat house:

How do I know this is the island’s boat house? Two years ago it was in the local news when it burned down, and it’s rather iconic on the shore.

Anyways, I’m getting a little off topic here, but it seems the the fundamental error here was in assuming that land not in a little rectangular plot on the plat map was public land. It is not, and demonstrably so, and easy enough to look up.

It is really really important for the good of the project that OSM respects the private access decisions of land owners. Many data consumers, not just mine, use this data. When people turn up on private-access areas because a map said it was a public area, that hurts OSM’s credibility.

It’s not public, it’s not permissive. It’s private, case closed.

I’m citing with permission this conversation I had with a member of the Knight family, who are the long time owners of the majority of the island. I hope this puts this nonsense to bed.




Note that I’ve checked the town’s maps and contacted a local resident to ascertain the private access status of Hog Island.

That’s documented on this wiki page: Hog Island.

to be more exact, it is about tagging whether access is restricted or not. Not whether road is a privately owned road.

whether routing will work as you want it is not so relevant, see Tagging for the renderer - OpenStreetMap Wiki

what is the legal status of access to say Way History: ‪South Riverside Drive‬ (‪884256555‬) | OpenStreetMap ? Is access permitted or not?

and Rhode Island/Hog Island - OpenStreetMap Wiki has

what is source of this divergence?

(though it is worth noting that privately owned road may be access=yes and publicly owned road can be access=private)

access=destination is for a “no through traffic” restriction. It’s not for roads where the owner has explicitly prohibited access, regardless of whether it’s on an island or not.

I suppose if access is officially prohibited but residents tend to let people pass anyway, that’s still access=private since access is (in nearly all cases) just for the legal definition.

Taylor Swift may let you use her private road to walk from your beached boat to the nearest pub and back, but she’d probably not appreciate it if her private road were to be used by all of RI as a public road.

After some consideration, I find I agree with you Brian, and hadn’t considered before what is appropriate tagging for a truly prohibited access. I stand corrected and thank you for pointing this out to me.

That sounds like a case of access=permissive, although if access may not be revoked by the owner it’s just access=yes.

You can also add ownership=* -

Interesting. Seems like there were several takes, shame it seems to be closed without exploring the followups, but another time. Will check in when I hear back from the town, appreciate the time taken to answer questions. Cheers!

Great start and thank you!

Better way of phrasing private vs restricted, very appreciated.

Regarding applications that use OSM, the implication from a third party (that I have been misidentified as) is that roads are being tagged incorrectly as private to suit a particular application.

Regarding the town GIS, it’s a hot mess (posted signage for roads that weren’t named, used GPS trace to add to another user’s contributions), which is a big driver to add and improve our OSM version. Access is, by necessity to the clustered cottages, shared and accessible. RI has strong “right of way” laws that protect not just shorelines, but access to them, and is specifically noted in the linked plat map. Having set feet on all the roads here, I feel I can offer some credible experience. In similar circumstances, a reasonable definitions seems to have settled on “permissive”, but I’m here to learn more.

Appreciate the insights!

Small islands tend to privately owned die to issues with access and cost to build. As a result, they are allowed to restrict access to thier streets to residents. If they allow you on the island, it difficult to justify not being able to use the streets to reach your destination. My solution was to use access=destination on all the islands streets. This prevents unauthorized cross traffic without blocking routes to locations on the island.

access=destination actually seems a clever and correct solution for many (or all) roads on an island; nice.

Yet, such tagging for a renderer or router isn’t something OSM wants. If they are access-restricted, they should be tagged as such: with access=private. Not permissive.

Semantics really do matter, especially when it seems clear that “tagging for a router” is the reason for some questionable (or outright wrong) tagging.

I’ll refer again to the correspondence from the island that I linked on the wiki page above:

This island is a private island so landing and walking on the island roads are prohibited. How ever landing in the south east point of the island is welcome to land a kayak and explore the marsh and beach area over there . A great place for a picnic. The islanders tend to lend a blind eye as long as people are respectful and don’t leave trash or make to much noise

The only part here that is permissive is “the marsh and beach in the south east point of the island”. Provided you’re respectful and don’t leave trash (good luck finding a tag for that part). So if they’re saying that walking on the roads is prohibited, and they’re private roads, that’s case closed. Also, for context – anywhere in Rhode Island below mean high tide is public access by law. Above mean high tide, normal property rights apply. So you can’t be prevented from landing a boat on the shore anywhere, even if it’s in front of Taylor Swift’s house.

This is some fantastic exploration, all puns intended. Thanks for the perspectives, not ghosting the thread, but will check back and try to add context when I get free. Cheers and thanks!

Ok, here with a few followup questions, and a huge thanks to you all for the opportunity to learn.

How is access determined? I found no restrictions to access in my time on the island. Is it up to the nearest individual? Or maybe should be broken down by mode? I see some precedent on Block Island in RI, where many roads post signage that common use service roads are private but specifically say that walkers are welcome.

Who decides a road is private? When making past edits I’ve relied on the town plat maps to see what belongs to who. If ownership doesn’t determine authority, who would have the final say? I make a joke, but in this case a single correspondence evokes an “old man yells at clouds” image. (also, I followed the link to the OSM wiki for the island for more info. It appears to have been edited very recently, which I find curious).

How does the community handle easements? I’ve found some discussion when searching the forum, but there may be related situations I’m missing. If it’s necessary for a lawful resident to cross to their own property it’s one thing, but how is this considered for an entire island that is open for people to criss cross?

Finally, what is the merit / virtue in exclusion? If there is an ambiguous situation without clear definition, do you feel it’s better to leave something closed or open?

Again, I realize this may have wandered into territory beyond the scope of the original question, but the different perspectives are appreciated!

Thank you! Saw that this was check marked as “solved” and read that as “discussion closed”. The shame part was a turn of phrase and could have been worded different; it’s really hard to communicate tone across quick messages as I check from a mobile device and this is my mistake. Truly grateful for things learned and the more nuanced suggestion you offer is certainly in line with a personal experience. But I’m in no rush and as Zelonewolf suggests, it’s best to do it right, so I thought I’d gather any other info available before suggesting anything that would create more work for others!

Hah, @Minh_nguyen, we should take a sec to have a good chuckle at my expense. I’d been mobile-only for a week while away and some things that are now clearly parts of the UI were not as intuitive from a phone.

@stevea , point taken, I’d gone in search of all the related things I could learn and could have done a more thoughtful job of asking concise separate questions.

ZeLonewolf I’m most grateful in life for the opportunity to learn. There seemed to be a disconnect, or maybe even mixed messages, given the finer gradations of “all private” vs “foot = ?” in my personal experience there (which is much like the situation described, pulled up a kayak and struck up a conversation with a resident hanging out on the beach). The documentation for OSM tags was dry enough to send me to the forums, and it feels like there are some nuances to opinions here as well, but this is still the best and most informed answer.

Just found that I can have a copy of The Knights of Hog Island sent to my library!

Aaron, it can’t hurt to “ask the town,” but from what I can discern from what I see here:


are appropriate / applicable tags to rather succinctly (and maybe even exactly) denote “what is” (which is how OSM does it) on this island. Even a person who wasn’t well-versed in the sometimes-subtle aspects of OSM tagging could read those two tags (taken together) and relatively easiliy understand what is being denoted. Good.

I see nothing to indicate OSM is owed any “shame” as we have not “closed” this. We do have the tagging pair I indicate above as what seems a reasonable suggestion going forward. And (perhaps) we’ll have what you “check in” with when you “hear back.” Good.