Conflicting global wiki definitions for deciding between tracks and paths based on passability

Background: in Thailand, there are many old graded tracks that have been downgraded to highway=path due to obstacles, vegetation, and the perception they may not be passable by motorcars.

When these tracks are downgraded to highway=path without additional tags (tracktype, width), we lose the information that this is a wide “path” which:

  • may still be passable for specialized off-road vehicles like super heavy-duty 4WDs, ATVs…
  • is a lot easier to navigate for 2-wheel vehicles (MTB, dirt bike) than a narrow nature trail.

While tracktype and smoothness are understood by routers and commonly used by renderers, width isn’t.

According to Tag:highway=track - OpenStreetMap Wiki

Some examples where highway=track is generally not appropriate:

  • trail or path that is not wide enough for a typical four-wheeled motor vehicle [2]

[2] A “typical four-wheeled motor vehicle” means a general purpose or average motor vehicle commonly used in a given region. The size and capability of what is considered a typical, common, or average vehicle varies around the world.

For Thailand, this would mean that if a track is not passable by the standard high-clearance pickup truck (often not 4wd), it should be tagged instead as a path.

However, according to Key:smoothness - OpenStreetMap Wiki

In this case, it would mean that an old track only passable by ATVs or dirt bikes could be kept with highway=track + smoothness=very_horrible, and another track only passable by heavy-duty 4WD can be tagged as highway=track + smoothness=horrible

So which is which?

I’m not sure there is a conflict. The highway=track wording talks about width only, not about “passability” in general. So a wide track with severe obstacles could still be a track.

I am not familiar with Thailand, but where I live I tend to use a tractor in my decision: if a tractor could pass (and if the way is connected to the road network by other tractor-passable ways), it qualifies as a track rather than a path. I would use the other tags you mentioned if it is impassable for other kinds of vehicle.

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Like Alan, I do not see a conflict. A track has to have a width, supporting two track vehicles. Smoothness is an add-on attribute, not a deciding factor, accidental rather than essential. It can be specified for paths just as well.

Now, there are lots of paths, 2m wide e.g., where cars could drive. Those are paths nevertheless, when lacking the main defining feature of track, namely providing access to the surrounding land area, for a list of uses partially given in the Wiki article.

There are grey areas: Especially grade 5 forestry tracks sometimes see no vehicular use for a dozen of years, only people walk there, so the track may take on the look a path. Just the other day I stumbled upon such, and left it tagged path.

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Now, there are lots of paths, 2m wide e.g., where cars could drive. Those are paths nevertheless, when lacking the main defining feature of track, namely providing access to the surrounding land area, for a list of uses partially given in the Wiki article.

no, it is not standard to downgrade track to path for functional reasons, it is the first time ever I read about it and it isn’t written in the wiki either.

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My interpretation of this is that if it’s wide enough for a 4wd/jeep type vehicle then it’s track. If it’s only wide enough for an ATV (< ~1.5m)) then it’s a path

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The path/track distinction cannot be based on width alone, I have no problem with a path here Way: 4947270 | OpenStreetMap , should this be converted to track? Path junction with the Dalkeith - Penicuik cycleway

Agreed. Width is one factor of many and it only determines when a way is too narrow to be a track. However, it does not determine when a way is too wide to be a path, footway, cycleway, or bridleway. So there is overlap. For ways that are wide enough to be either track or something else, the appropriate tag must chosen based on other factors.

So you did not bother to read the wiki for the last eight years?

The wiki for highway=track makes specific emphasis that it should be chosen “based on function”. By this logic if a track road serves significant function, it should be highway=track, even if it is not passable by a conventional vehicle. Path is usually not the same function as track. Changing to a path implies no motor vehicle at all can travel on the path, which is not true if 4WD or other off road vehicles can travel on it.

By this logic if a track road serves significant function, it should be highway=track

I would read it contrarily, if a road serves significant function, it should be a service, residential, unclassified or higher and not a track. Track is used when the road serves to access the land around without leading to things like settlements or restaurants, etc., i.e. roads to access fields and woods.

I agree that width is not the only criterion, designation is important

Right. I do not disagree. I only mean significant if choosing only either path or track (if the way is so significant, it should be a track over a path). As you point out, another classification might be appropriate depending on the usage and context within the road network within the country / region. A road may resemble a track from aerial imagery, but if it road is more significant than a track, then a higher level of classification should be selected.

You are right, I missed the wording. Re-reading it now, and it’s clear.

The wiki confirms this with a 2m threshold:

If a path is wide enough for 4-wheel-vehicles (wider than 2 m), and it is not legally signposted or otherwise only allowed for pedestrians, cyclists or horseriders, it is often better tagged as a highway=track or highway=service.

The wiki statement also refers to legal access exceptions where you could technically have highway=footway, highway=cycleway, or highway=bridleway wider than 2 meters.

Without pictures, it is really hard to tell, from the term “passibility” alone. Here an overgrown track - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Overgrown_track_-geograph.org.uk-_3375307.jpg

A tractor can still drive there, as long as the trees do not get too close. But a tractor can go almost anywhere, it does not even need a track Some might choose disused:highway=track ?

[ Update: Make link clickable, discourse parser seems to have problems. ]

Do you mean, in combination with another highway tag, e.g., highway=path, disused:highway=track?

(By the way I wasn’t able to get that wikimedia link to work - probably need to add or remove a character but I couldn’t figure out which).

I did not think of this, but certainly, you are right: In case a disused track can be more or less comfortably walked, of course, it can be hw=path at the same time. obstacle=vegetation, smoothness=unpassable, &c. come to mind.

The track in your sample pic really appears to be disused and if that is not restricted to a very short passage I would tag it as such. Nevertheless it does not automatically become a path even if it would be possible to walk there. It may be disused at the time being but it is still wide enough for motorized 2track vehicles and a 4WD or tractor could still pass there, so it is not a path imho.

I would only downgrade a track to a path if it is well visible on the ground that some single track traffic has been going on there and additionally the track has degraded in such a way that it is no longer passable for any 2track vehicle any longer. As long as this has no happened, it may be disused or probably abandonded, but it still remains a track.

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Regarding the disused:/abandoned: usage, the smoothness wiki recommends only using those tags when the track is impassable for “no wheeled vehicle” but surprisingly no mention of “2-wheel” vehicle but only “that no 4-wheeled vehicles can pass”.

smoothness=very_horrible include specialized 2-wheel vehicles (dirt bike, MTB) so my assumption was that smoothness=impassable + highway=path + disused:highway=track would be only passable on foot.

The smoothness=impassable section definitely needs a revision here, either it should be

  • a. Usable: “No 4-wheeled vehicle” OR
  • b. Description: “etc. that no wheeled vehicle can pass”

Again, I do not see a conflict: The usability column says No wheeled vehicle and that should be taken as what impassable means. The description talks about roads. Roads by definition are to be used with two-track (4-wheeled) vehicles, so that column is fine too. Same goes for tracks. It is only on paths where the full meaning strikes.

BTW: Lots of skilled trial riders won’t have much of a problem on the location of the photo, don’t you think? So wheeled has to be taken with a pinch of salt too.

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Of course. Then I would rather not see any mention of 2-wheel vehicles in the smoothness=very_horrible description, this is what confused me. If I think only 4-wheeled vehicles, then it’s clear.