Editing a Road Surface

A good number of the rural streets in my area are unpaved. I’ve been trying to mark them as such in OSM so that when I make my cycling maps I can see the road surfaces easily. I’ve gone in with the editor and successfully changed a road surface to “unpaved” but after eight hours it hasn’t changed to the brown dashed line (unsurfaced road) on the map the way I’ve expected. Does it take days for such a change to propogate, or am I going about this edit the wrong way?

There is a good chance that your edit is fine. The map at www.openstreetmap.org will pick up the changes pretty rapidly but other map renderers may take a long time. Some might track the changes in the OSM database real-time but I think most grab a snap shot periodically and then it takes time to render the whole world.

What are you using for your cycle map? Have you checked with them or their web site to see how often they refresh their data from OSM?

did you use the surface tag? E.G. surface=unpaved?

This is correct tagging but unfortunately the surface-tag is not rendered on the standard map.


Yes, I used the “surface” tag. I assumed that changing it to “unpaved” would cause the road to be marked with the “unsurfaced” key on the main map. Apparently it is not rendered that way. Would I have to change the description of the road instead? For example, if it’s labeled a residential street I’d need to change it to something else?

if it is a residential street, i.e. a street with lot’s of houses, you should not change the classification.
Tracks and paths are represented by dashed lines, so as long as it is not of one of these, there is no reason to change the classification. Otherwise you are tagging for the renderer, which should be avoided.

Sometimes even primary roads are not paved. osm.org is not the best map to see this, but someone could come up with a rendering to differentiate unpaved vs. paved primary roads. As long as the data is correct it is ok.
A lot of discussion has been going on in the past on e.g. the tagging mailing list and the github issue tracking for the osm rendering page about this topic. But so far no consensus has been found.

You’re right. There’s good reason not to change a road’s underlying classification just so a particular renderer displays it more accurately onscreen. Perhaps the trouble is that the openstreetmap.org map key mixes classifications and surfaces when it lists “unsurfaced road” right underneath motorway, trunk, etc. It makes it sound like suddenly it’s categorizing a road by surface rather than use.

I guess what I’m actually looking for then is a renderer that pays attention to the surface tag as well as the road classification.

Also I’d like the map to show a non-paved road different from a “normal” road, but still different from an agricultural track. When creating my own maps for Garmin with mkgmap, I added such a style rule - i.e. it is feasable. But most map-makers don’t care (and non-paved roads are not very common in Germany or The Netherlands, so: why care? - of course, I know it’s different in other countries).

There is a map view at itomaps to show the surface of roads. It isn’t really meant to be used unfortunately. See http://www.itoworld.com/map/25 and http://www.itoworld.com/map/215 .
I agree that a mapping style that uses surface would be great for OSM in not so rich countries. Maybe this could be done in the “humanitarian” style

There is a much better map to check all the Bicycle tags on OSM:


Choose surface tags from the menu left and select the type of surfaces you want to see at the right.
Great tool!

I’ll add to this. In the Western US, many gravel roads are on public lands managed by the Forest Service. While gravel, these are fairly “major” roads, and should really show up differently than hiking or “dirt bike” trails. And offer the ability to support routing when imported by OSMAND.

At this moment, what is the proper, accepted way to tag/edit such roads? In my area I don’t see a lot of consistency. I suspect part of that is due to trying to “force” them to show up on nav programs.

My take is that if it is wide enough for two vehicles to pass the I tag it as highway=unclassified but maybe highway=residential if there appears to be a high enough density of houses on it. And I tag it surface=unpaved.

If it is only wide enough for one vehicle, then I will tag it as highway=track. Usually I don’t bother tagging surface=unpaved on a track as that seems to be the default assumption.

For what it is worth, I use surface=unpaved as most of the roads are natural materials (nothing hauled in and spread to make a more durable surface) and so the road may change from soil to clay to sand to rock over relatively short sections, shorter than I’d care to actually measure and tag.

In our area the roads that are not asphalt or concrete have gravel on them so I tag as surface=gravel.

I use Openfietsmap Lite for use with my bike. It is rendered for bikes. It shows gravel roads as dashed lines and also shows bike lanes and other things good to know on a bike. I also have OSM generic routable new. With it a gravel road looks the same as any other road so it’s not good for bikes.