Footway vs cycleway (vs path)

Hi all,

As a (relatively) new user, this topic has been a source of confusion for me.

The wiki is rather ambiguous on this (the general OSM guidelines are not much better):

path Unpaved Single. Accessible by foot, bicycle, and horse. Use “bicycle=designated” where the path is part of a bicycle trail. motor_vehicle=no, bicycle=yes, foot=yes, horse=yes
footway Where people walk in non-residential areas. Access by foot only. motor_vehicle=no, bicycle=no, foot=designated.
cycleway Unpaved Single. Access by bicycle only. motor_vehicle=no, bicycle=designated, foot=no.

Problems with current definitions:

  • Footway is only for non-residential areas? How about a paved walking “trail” inside a city park (שביל סלול להולכי רגל)?
  • Cycleway is only unpaved? What about a cycleway in a city? What if it’s not a single but still a designated paved bicycle trail?
  • What if the trail is paved and accessible by foot and bicycle?
  • How would you tag the following two places? How does it fit with the current guidelines?
  1. (
  2. (

I think we should consider discussing clearer guidelines.

I propose the following:

  • Path should be used for any unpaved single (similar to track). Add “bicycle=designated” where the path is part of an official bicycle trail (שבילי אופניים של קקל וכו). Add “foot=designated” where the path is part of an official walking trail (סימון שבילים וכו).

  • Cycleway should be used for anything paved, that is explicitly (a sign) or implicitly (asphalt surface) designated for bicycles. In my experience, it is extremely rare in Israel to have a cycleway with no pedestrian access (either combined or adjacent to it), so foot=yes|designated should almost always be used here.

  • Footway should be used for anything paved, that is explicitly (a sign) or implicitly (pavestone surface - אבנים משתלבות) designated for pedestrians. Sometimes it can be tagged with bicycle=yes. If there’s also an adjacent cycleway, the whole thing should be tagged as cycleway (with foot=yes|designated).

Note that my proposal gives a sort of “priority” for cycleway over footway - this is because I believe a cycleway is more rare “on the ground” and more valuable to the map user. One can usually assume he can walk almost anywhere - on a cycleway (especially if it’s tagged with foot=yes|designated), on a sidewalk, or along the road; one usually cannot assume it about cycling.

Also note that I propose that any trail with smooth asphalt will be implicitly considered a cycleway unless it’s obvious otherwise (so image 1 would be tagged with highway=cycleway and foot=designated; and image 2 with highway=cycleway and foot=yes).

Looking forward to your comments!

I’m a fan of simplicity. highway=path/footway/cycleway should have nothing to do with paving, just like the global guidelines. Rather, it should only indicate the access permissions and the main “audience”.

highway=footway - Mainly people.
highway=cycleways - Mainly bicycles.
highway=path. - Generic, no specific main audience. (horses are also allowed by default).
highway=track - wide enough for cars, unpaved

Each has default permissions (e.g. no bikes by default allowed on footways), that can be overridden.

To answer your questions specifically:

  • Footway is only for non-residential areas? - I personally ignore that guideline. I think it means “wherever highway=residential doesn’t fit”

  • Cycleway is only unpaved? - I’d ignore/change that guideline.

  • How would you tag the following two places? highway=cycleway, foot=yes/no depending on whether people are allowed. Surface=something if you want to convey that information.

I personally never use designated. (because highway=footway implies foot=designated, and highway=cycleway implies cycleway=designated)

Note that these are my personal preferences and perhaps others disagree.

Apparently, I’m responsible for introducing the term “non-residential areas” for footways in the Israel Wiki. I agree this is inappropriate.

The general OSM guidelines highway=footway do not make a distinction between residential and non-residential areas.

I also agree that path is not necessarily unpaved.

I suggest the updated wiki to say:

path: A pathway too narrow for vehicles, i.e. a “single”. Usually unpaved. Accessible by foot, bicycle, and horse. Use “bicycle=designated” where the path is part of a bicycle trail.

footway: A path used mainly/exclusively for pedestrians.

If the path is part of bicycle trail, why not use highway=cycleway? In other words, are these synonyms, or do they have slightly different meanings?:

  • highway=path, bicycle=designated

  • highway=cycleway (The globally agreed implicit default permission is bicycle=designated).

I also disagree with “usually unpaved”. Pathways are very often paved in urban areas.

I updated the Wiki according to that. (I also updated cycleway). Let me know what you think.

@SwiftFast, I’m also a fan of simplicity. Unfortunately, OSM has a degree of freedom (or redundancy) in choosing footway/cycleway/path - which makes that choice less simple and up to each individual user. Clear guidelines could create a more uniform map.

Could you please clarify why you mention

, and yet you don’t seem to have such an opinion about highway=track (which, as far as I can tell, is universally adopted by our community to mean any unpaved road in Israel, contrary to the global guidelines)?

I do think your edit to the wiki is a step in the right direction.

However, I’m still not sure the Wiki makes it clear to a novice user how to tag my example image #1.
Since it’s equally used by both pedestrians and bicycles, and not “mainly” for any of them, I would understand that the Wiki suggests to tag it as path, with bicycle=designated.
Is this what you had in mind?

And what about a hiking trail? Should it be a footway since it’s “used mainly for pedestrians”? Or a path since it’s also “accessible by bicycle/horse”?

I agree the Wiki is still not totally clear.

Note that in the global guidelines, tracks are “usually unpaved”. To keep in line with the global guidelines (and common sense/simplicity), footway/cycleway/path shouldn’t be related to paving. highway=track is allowed to be paved globally, but that’s not used in Israel. Apparently we don’t have a regional need for “paved tracks”, so I think I take it for granted that tracks are unpaved.

I am not sure. I never tagged such a road before. It’s kind of designated for both pedestrians and bicycles. I think I would have tagged two separate parallel roads, the right one is highway=footway, the left one is highway=cycleway. They’re clearly distinct physically.

Hiking trails are always marked as “path” in Israel when accessible by horse and bike. If they are not accessible by horse and bike they are tagged as footways. I don’t consider them “mainly” for pedestrians at all. (and it’s a lot shorter than highway=footway, bicycle=yes, horse=yes), but this means the meaning of “mainly” is subjective and perhaps we need more clearly defined wording.

Let’s do it the other way around. List all of the current tagging practices and try to deduce the general rules (if they’re present at all), I think these are our current tagging practices.

physical access is both possible and allowed only to the means of transport inside the parenthesis.

  • hiking trail/urban path (pedestrians, bicycle, horse): highway=path

  • hiking trail/urban path (pedestrians, bicycle): highway=path, horse=no

  • hiking trail/urban path (pedestrians): highway=footway

  • designated cycleways (bicycle): highway=cycleway (I suspect others use different schemes here)

  • path mainly for bicycles (bicycle,people): highway=cycleway, foot=yes. (I suspect others use different schemes here)

  • path mainly for people: highway=footway, bicycle/horse=yes.

some(or most? need stats) just use highway=path instead for the last two cases.

  • dirt road (wide enough for cars): highway=track
  • minor paved road in a forest / non urban / inter-city environment: highway=unclassified
  • crosswalk: highway=footway, bicycle=yes OR highway=footway OR highway=path. I’ve seen all.

edit: fixes 2

Note I massively edited the previous post.

A cycleway and a footway so close together will show unpredictable results on most maps. An alternative which I like better is to tag it as


If one wants to tag with additional accuracy, then this is a path with two lanes:


I prefer highway=path whenever bicycles are a reasonable/expected use. I never understood the point of having highway=footway with bicycle=yes rather than highway=path…

I suggest access to horses would not be included in any of the classification criteria. Each highway type has its default access for horses, which could be overwritten without changing the highway type.

Other than that, @SwiftFast’s summary looks very good!

The most minimal approach I can think of is to just pick the highway=* tag with maximum matching default access tags, and then explicitly add the missing access tags and to completely let go of the “mainly” part or the *=designated tags.

I agree that the summary looks good, I think it captures all of our options.

I’m not clear on the difference between “hiking trail/urban path (pedestrians)” and “path mainly for people” though.

Would like to suggest that on a hiking trail, it can be difficult to know if bicycles (or horses) are allowed/able to use the trail. Perhaps using highway=path for this case (and all hiking trails in fact) might be better.

Here’s my personal understanding.

When it comes to access permissions (ignore horses for now), these are the same:

  • highway=path
  • highway=footway, bicycle=yes
  • highway=cycleway, foot=yes

The difference is in answering “who is the main user”?

highway=path answers that with “I don’t know / I don’t care / all users are equal”.

highway=footway answers that with “mainly people”. For instance, I’ve seen a path in a college which is used by people most of the time (highway=footway), but bicycles are permitted, and must cross in order to reach the bicycle parking area. This is a footway 99% of the time, but bicycles can get through.

highway=cycleways answers that with “mainly bicycles”, some areas are clearly built with bicycles in mind (e.g. OP’s image 2), but people may be allowed.

If the question “who is the main user” doesn’t matter, then one could should just pick the tagging scheme with the minimum tags.

Israeli law never prevents horses or bikes in trails as far as I know, so it’s a question of ability. There are many obvious cases: Going downhill/uphill on a Nahal is out of the question for horses or bikes. Same goes for narrow, rocky paths.

If it’s not obvious, use highway=path.

The former is people only. The latter is people mainly :P. But some don’t care about “mainly”, if it’s people and bikes, they use highway=path. zstadler seems to be of that camp.

Just a reformulation attempt for the list above, aiming to put the more common cases on top.

Trail guide:

  • Is it wide enough for cars and not paved? go for highway=track

  • Can only people go through?(ability) highway=footway (nahal downhill/uphill, very rocky paths, narrow paths, etc)

  • Otherwise, highway=path

  • If you are experienced enough with horses and/or bikes to tell that a path is suitable for one but not the other, use highway=path, bicycle/horse=no

*Obscure case: Can only bikes go through?(law) highway=cycleway. I think this doesn’t exist in non urban areas.

Urban guide: (If you only care about access permissions and want minimum tags)

  • Is it wide enough for cars and not paved? go for highway=track

  • Can only people go through? (law/ability) highway=footway

  • Can only bikes go through?(law) highway=cycleway

  • Otherwise, highway=path, if there are explicit horse rules (rare in Israel I think), add horse=yes/no. Yes assumed by default.

Urban guide: (If you wanna talk about the main audience and not just access permissions)

  • Note there are certain usage variations here, and this is surely reflecting my own preferences.
  • Is it wide enough for cars and not paved? go for highway=track

  • Can only people go through? (law/ability) highway=footway

  • Can only bikes go through?(law) highway=cycleway

  • Can people and bikes go through, and there’s no obvious main audience? highway=path, if there are explicit horse rules (rare in Israel I think), add horse=yes/no.

  • Is it mainly for people? highway=footway, bicycle=yes. if there are explicit horse rules (rare in Israel I think), add horse=yes/no.

  • Is it mainly for bicycles? There are variations, different people use *=designated witchcraft in a variety of ways. I’d use highway=cycleway, foot=yes. I presume horses are never allowed here. (and horse=no is assumed). If I’m wrong, specify horse=yes.

  • Some seem to designate for both people and bikes. Go figure.

  • If there are weird obscurities (e.g. bikes and horses only, or people and horses) (never seen this), I’d use highway=path and *=no for whatever I’d like to weed out.

Edit: slight fixes.

I think it’s a very good summary, answering all cases (not sure about simplicity though :P).
Let’s add this to the Wiki.

I’d consult other users before putting the last part (main audience) in the Wiki, because I believe variations exist.

Sounds good to me, probably because this is how I tag.
How would you tag a “single” that has a teardrop marking usually not in urban places?
I usually use highway=bicycle, foot=yes (I tend to forget this usually), but I think we should use the same tagging if possible.
An image like the one here with the preferred tagging can help in the wiki IMO.