Highway=busway on non-BRTs

Maybe based on a wrong understanding? As I said the proposal creator should be asked, if the tag was meant to be used only on BRT bus lanes.

To be clear, I’m not conequently aganist using hw=busway for all types of bus lanes, but the original proposal was clearly based on BRT (please see Proposal:Tag:highway=busway - OpenStreetMap Wiki and the photos there).

I think it’s pretty clear that BRT was at least the motivation for the original proposal, even if it quickly was perceived as too contrived in some regions.

It’s always a negotiation, especially when a tag is young, with few data consumers to raise backward compatibility concerns. Some skunked tags returned to their original documented meanings once the community identified a satisfactory alternative. It depends whether we find the original or stretched meaning more intuitive and usable.

Some of the not-quite-bus-exclusive roadways mentioned earlier are still called “busways” in the real world despite allowing other kinds of public service vehicles and even bicycles. The point is that all these modes of transportation are seen as less common or mainstream as private motor vehicles. Buses just happen to be the most prominent designated users due to fixed service schedules.


Once again, the main problem is just how badly it was defined on the page (BRT-centric only at the introducing paragraph) and on the other pages (few to no mentions of BRTs, focusing on general bus lanes instead), alongside the fact that BRTs consist of more than just protected bus lanes (and likewise can and do work with paint at times) and it’s much more useful to mark BRTs as routes than as ways.
IMO the overall redefinition is still in spirit in of the original definition in that the primary focus is on abolishing highway=service for protected bus lanes (with higher quality BRTs as the main users) while also differenciating them from highway=bus_guideway.

Further highlighting the problem is @Kovoschiz’s post:


The proposal creator have been notified through the wiki when Use for highway=busway non-BRTs was added by @ManuelB701 on the Talk page.

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Reading this thread, it’s not clear to me what you’re suggesting where to draw the line.

Consider this example:


Prohibited for cars except to cross from one side street to another, as can be seen at the bottom of the picture. Allowed only for buses, trams, taxis, bicycles and emergency vehicles.

Wikipedia calls this a transit mall, that’s an American word so they’re probably more common in America.

The OSM wiki page is quite clear that they’re not to be tagged as busways.

If you go through the list of examples on Wikipedia you’ll find that they have been tagged very differently.

If “transit malls” are not “busways” but some “busways” allow bicycles, then how do you distinguish a “transit mall” from a busway where bicycles are allowed?

I think there’s some confusion about what constitutes a transit mall, possibly due to imprecise language on Wikipedia. My understanding is that, in North America, a typical transit mall is an ordinary city street that has a dedicated bus lane alongside an unrestricted car lane. The bus lane may be open to bikes or taxis as an exception. The bus lane isn’t a protected lane – there’s no physical separation – so it may also allow some minor use by cars as a turn lane. Clearly such a street doesn’t qualify as a highway=busway, and the bus lane wouldn’t be mapped as a separate feature either. But if the street is completely given over to buses, it might still be named or described as a “transit mall”.

Wikipedia lists my city’s downtown transit mall as such. It consists of a one-way couplet of two-lane streets. Along both streets, one lane is open to cars, while the other is a bus lane that cars can also use as a right turn lane. The parallel light rail line and pedestrian walkways are also considered part of the transit mall. As a form of pedestrian priority, the street and light rail line have a reduced speed limit of 20 and 10 miles per hour, respectively.

To the east, we also have a dedicated busway in the median of a major street. It only allows the buses that serve the bus rapid transit line. Other buses use the main car lanes, and there’s no exception for left turns due to the physical separation:

This busway isn’t called a transit mall, because that term sort of implies low speed, by analogy with a pedestrian mall (highway=pedestrian).

A word of caution when following a link from a tagging page to a Wikipedia article: many English Wikipedia articles are named after an American English term but attempt to draw analogies worldwide, to avoid getting tagged as having a North American bias. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every example should be tagged identically just because it’s listed in the Wikipedia article. At the same time, it’s appropriate for the tagging page to link to this article, which gives a bit more background for laypeople.

I immediately recognized Princes St in your photo, I greatly enjoyed visiting Edinburgh last year! This is a nice example, thanks for bringing it up. To me, a busway should be dedicated only for buses and not allow any other motor vehicles. Princes St explicitly allows taxis, for one. Given the shops along it, I would expect it to also allow commercial loading/deliveries at some times of day, and indeed it does if Bing Streetside is to be believed, although this is not tagged on the OSM ways:

The photo is a bit blurry, but the bottom says “Loading permitted 8pm-7am”. These additional use cases for non-public transit vehicles are what makes this not a busway IMO: I think no private motor vehicle should be able to drive on one in any circumstance. As has probably been made clear in the thread, I lean toward a more restrictive definition of busway that favors dedicated rights of way where buses can attain relatively high speeds, so I have trouble imagining what a use case for highway=busway + bicycle=yes looks like. But I could believe it could exist in some edge case.

As far as I understand it, a transit mall is a street where private cars are overall prohibited and the street is well served (i.e. high frequency) by on-street PT. I think the most important distinction is the lesser pedestrian separation (particularly the lack of kerbs) and how one is able to just cross the street unlike on a “proper” busway where free crossing is overall prohibited (either only allowed at dedicated crossings or separated by stronger barriers). This is particularly true inside pedestrian zones.

These (Way: ‪Ludwigsstraße‬ (‪178224305‬) | OpenStreetMap, Way: ‪Rheinstraße‬ (‪378529302‬) | OpenStreetMap) are streets which I’ve been personally on and classify as transit malls thanks for being linear corridors inside pedestrianised zones with many bus and tram lines.

Of course, part of the problem INE is that it’s also relative: A bus-only motorway (not just motorway links, of course) is a good example of a busway, protected bus lanes i.e. a bus lane which is on different carriageway (with barriers which are kerbs or stronger) also are tagged as highway=busway (the non-grade separaed BRTs), a bus-only street OTOH hasn’t got much of a way (pun unintended) to compare with the immediate surroundings.
For us Germans, it’s kind of like applying the three types of BOStrab (tramway) trackbeds to busses: Highway adjacenet (i.e. on-street), exclusive (at grade but protected) and independent (limited crossings if at all and generally protected by barriers) and highway=busway best applies to the latter two but not necessarily for the first one.

Ultimately, the main distinction is the priority: Does the infrastructure primarily serve busses (and rail) first or does it focus on other road users such as pedestrians or cyclists (e.g. as @Minh_Nguyen mentioned, do the road vehicles drive at reduced speeds on such streets)?

I see where you’re coming from, but I think this is probably unnecessarily strict, when we already tag plenty of pedestrian malls as highway=pedestrian even though they allow some limited use by motor vehicles. For example, this pedestrian mall in Cincinnati serves an open-air market; it’s strictly limited to pedestrians during market hours but allows motor vehicles to make deliveries or park during off-hours. On balance, calling it an ordinary unclassified street is a bit pedantic and misleading, since the restrictions during market hours are far from the norm for that city:

On the campus of Stanford University, many of the streets around the main quad are considered pedestrian malls, even though the vast majority of traffic is on bicycles, and some motor vehicles are allowed – specifically, the golf carts and other small electric vehicles of a university-run shuttle service that serves disabled students, students who need a safety escort at night, and anyone who needs a ride after an intense party.

It’s cases like these that help to justify the dedicated highway values. Otherwise, pedestrian malls could just be service roads that disallow motor vehicles, and busways could just be streets that exclusively allow buses, all via access tags.


I think this is correct for the most part, but if “transit mall” really is still specific to American English, then it absolutely can allow private cars. I drive down the transit mall I mentioned on a regular basis. It’s a pleasant experience if you don’t mind the lower speed limit and having to watch for pedestrians darting across. Also note that most laypeople are unfamiliar with the term; it’s mostly jargon from urban planning and transit advocacy circles.

As I understand it, the concept of a transit mall basically started with the Portland Mall in Portland, Oregon. The design prioritized public transit and tried to be as pedestrian-friendly as possible while still allowing some private motor vehicle use. It was so successful that other cities tried to emulate it. Some cities, like San José, had to water down the design and allow through traffic by car, while others have managed to prohibit car traffic entirely.

Regardless of any local quirks, the primary defining factors are improved public transit facilities (similar to BRT) and pedestrian friendliness (similar to a bus station). This distinguishes transit malls from something like San Francisco’s Market Street. Nowadays, this street also prohibits private cars except for some short maneuvers, but it’s still a monster of a street that you’d be foolish to jaywalk across, so it isn’t a transit mall. It also isn’t currently tagged as a busway, but I suspect this has more to do with how disruptive it would be to retag this street. Not only would the city’s main thoroughfare disappear from osm-carto, but it would also probably catch out a lot of routers. This happens to be the most important street in the whole world from the perspective of VC-funded mapping and autonomous driving startups, not exactly the sort of software shops that are thinking about pedestrian or transit facilities.

Thanks. Maybe we’ll need to leave the question what exactly a “transit mall” is and which streets internationally can be considered good examples to the editors of the Wikipedia page for transit malls.

But that means our OSM Wiki page could probably be a bit clearer about when not to use highway=busway.

Am I right then that highway=busway might allow cyclists, but if the street I am looking at allows taxis, and especially if it allows private motor vehicles (even if only for some of the time, for loading and unloading) then that’s a strong indicator that I am not looking at a highway=busway? Even when private cars are completely banned, we can ask ourselves whether the infrastructure primarily serves buses or whether it serves a variety of transport modes.

From the page, second alinea:

Busways are not meant to be used by motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists.

Yes I know but then some people above were saying that some busways do allow cyclists (see here) and therefore the “requirement” in the Wiki page that busways don’t allow cycling could be dropped.

That’s why I asked the question, when I’m looking at a road that allows buses and cyclists, how do I know if I should be tagging it as a busway or just as an ordinary road (e.g. unclassified) where private cars aren’t allowed?

If the bicycle access or taxi access is signposted as an exception to a prohibition, like “Buses Only Except Bicycles”, then it doesn’t affect the fundamental nature of the feature. On the other hand, if the sign says “Buses and Taxis Only”, then it’s less clear and we need to consider some other context beyond the immediate sign.

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One exemption that can be safely considered not a problem is taxi’s, as there are countries that by default allow taxi’s to use those bus roads, even when they aren’t specifically designed for it and don’t really use them all that much because of that. A hard line on taxi usage being forbidden for it to be a busway, would mean entire countries missing out on being able to use that tag, even though they are clearly still busways and are known as such by the public and basically still function exactly the same. In fact, a whole lot of busways where historically tagged that way already, given taxi falls under the psv=yes tag that was widely used before. I think it is very difficult to put in hard guidelines of what should and what should not be tagged as busway, instead we should opt for a rule following the duck test. Does it look, feel, function as a busway, then it is one. An occasional taxi does not at all influence that. And in that example of the U of M Transitway, the infrastructure and function clearly is also still a busway. Transit malls however are maybe a different kind, if they are used by pedestrians, delivery vehicles all over the place etc, it probably starts to be more a general purpose road that only disallows private motor vehicles.
But then again, that is a very american term that is basically unheard of in non-english speaking countries, so it might need further clarification and discussion on what’s actually meant by it, and if it even makes sense at all to exclude them. It could be possible to replace it by more concrete guidelines, like e.g. does it allow general purpose traffic, is there a separate way for pedestrians, etc. as ‘transit mall’ seems to encompass way too much different types of infrastructure and just isn’t used as a term in large parts of the world.
And note that for example pedestrian areas in many cases also allow bicycles and some kinds of motor vehicles for specific purposes, yet no one questions them being tagged as pedestrian only roads with specific exceptions. I think busways should be treated exactly the same.


The most common scenarios around here are that the road signs say either

  • cycles, buses and taxis only, or
  • no entry except cycles, buses and taxis

The word busway isn’t used so the “duck test” doesn’t work.

If there’s no hard line around either taxis or bicycles being allowed, then it’s less clear me when something should in theory be a busway or something else + access tags. (Practically, until busway is rendered on the ‘main map’, of course no one is going to go and retag the city’s most well known street to busway)

In any case, it should be possible to improve the section of the Wiki that says “don’t use highway=busway for transit malls” based on this discussion :blush: I’ll try to come up with a better phrasing and put it up for discussion here.

It also looks like there are some differences between countries so maybe it’s easier to get consensus in the local community on this question than globally.

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Reminds me of the changeset I made almost a week ago.

In that case, I’ve chosen highway=busway because the infrastructure serves primarily busses (bus=designated, DE:245, incidentally mirroring Tjuro’s post above) and bicycles and taxis are merely permitted on them (bicycle/taxi=yes, “Fahrrad u. Taxi frei”), alongside being relative to the highway’s main carriageway, not to mention there is no need for a pedestrian to cross the street there in any way either.

Compare that to Münsterplatz (which is more of transit malls) and not only is it part of a larger street (which does permit other vehicles if only partially) but vehicular access is controlled using No Entry and plenty of pedestrians cross the street as well, making it feel less like busway and more of a street where only busses/trams are permitted.
An even more straightforward example is Ludwigsstraße further east which right in the middle of a pedestrian zone (complete with the lack of kerbs) which disqualifies it from being a busway.

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Another thought, these car-free, public transport-dominated city centre streets that I have in mind tend to have a lot of shops, restaurants, hotels and other amenities on them. Am I right that most highway=busways do not, so this could be used as another criterion when trying to explain what is or isn’t a busway? Again, not a hard line, but one of many things to consider.

I’m against mapping shared-use ways as highway=busway.

These are access restriction signs, which will always present us with tricky edge cases because the system is relatively flexible. As I see it, highway=busway is about infrastructure intended for a particular purpose, perhaps built to a certain norm, however the signs accomplish that goal. These signs become a rule of thumb but don’t tell the whole story.

I suspect this concept is somewhat foreign to mappers used to signage standards that tell you everything you need to know about a given thoroughfare. We’ve encountered the same challenge with other infrastructure design concepts like American-style expressways (expressway=yes) and bike boulevards (no established tagging but very much desired). We would have the same problem with European-style cyclestreets, living streets, and motorway imitations (motorroad=yes) if not for the tendency to post signs that announce the design concept.[1]

  1. We handwave about motorroad=yes being about access restrictions, like the official sign, but just look at all the other things this page says it implies in various countries. ↩︎

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