How to tag unpaved tracks primarily used for access to agricultural fields, with the exception of one residence or hotel?


  • I am working on improved guidelines for Thailand’s minor highways classification, so I am looking for global feedback, and yes I am aware each country may have its own variations.
  • We had many instances of (often rugged) highway=track converted to highway=residential due to the presence of what may look like a residence. While some conversions may be justified like in the examples below, often visible buildings are only farming huts used for daily work, or gardens not used as permanent residences.

When do you justify that a minor road primarily used for access to agricultural fields can be upgraded? Based on the number of residences/places along it? Based on the surface and its conditions (4wd or not)?


These examples are typical dirt tracks originally used to access nearby fields, and are not known to be used as through traffic (hence I believe making highway=unclassified inappropriate).

Would you tag these as highway=service, highway=residential, or highway=track and why ?

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hw=residential if it is mainly within a residential area and leads to several houses → does not apply here
hw=track if its only purpose is for agriculture and forestry

hw=service if it gives access to one object (farm, hotel, quarry etc) → imho applies here
In this case the road is used also by non agricutural vehicles which has typically consequences for accessibility e.g. under bad weather conditions


what “objects” would not apply for highway=service?

Surely a farm hut or shelter would not, right? what about a farmhouse, or non-permanent residence?

Definitely in or near urban areas (first 2 examples), however e.g. in Thailand, especially in mountain areas, tractors are not common and the standard vehicle used to access and work in agricultural fields is the same as the one to reach settlements (a high clearance pickup truck). So in that case, it’s hard to make a distinction in terms of accessibility, and mappers tend to heavily use highway=track because many of these roads would not be accessible to city cars.

If its only an auxiliary building for agriculture/forestry (e.g. animal shelter) → not service-
If it is used for other purpose (temporary residence) → service

Accessibility is no accepted criteria in OSM to classify roads, “importance” is used instead.
In Nepal e.g. roads are classified as primary or even trunk although they are in sections only passable by high clearance vehicles, simply because there is no other connection between two larger cities.
Classification has consequences (at an average) for accessibility but not vice versa.

But classification in the real world is never unambiguous and in many cases there are good arguments for either choice.


Some feedback for tracks in the USA. In general a track is usually exclusively for agriculture or forestry purposes it doesn’t receive any higher classification. But often there are roads (such as this one - Way: ‪Tolt Reservoir Road‬ (‪426606609‬) | OpenStreetMap ) which serves as the main highway for navigating in the forest area, so it is unclassified rather than track because it serves such significant function.

Another example is with access to residences. A single property might have a driveway which may resemble a track if it is unmaintained, but as the wiki specfies, “Note that driveways are defined by their function, not a quality.”, so using highway=service is preferred.

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Which classification would use then if it’s one of “main” agricultural/forestry tracks but it does not serve a significant function?

Does a highway=residential road need to be always within a residential area ?

The wiki seems to refer to an OR condition:

The highway=residential tag is used on roads that provide access to, or within, residential areas but which are not normally used as through routes.

I completely understand that a small road leading to a single house should be tagged as highway=service:

Roads to individual dwellings would normally be tagged as highway=service (and likely service=driveway).

But it’s still unclear to me why these “main” non-traffic-through roads that connect adjacent driveways outside residential areas should be tagged highway=service vs highway=residential.

I have similar concerns when mapping the countryside, but the road that connects residential areas and remote places is generally regarded as a ‘track’.
I think so even on some paved (mainly cement) roads.

I would still lean towards unclassified. Even if it does not have significant function. It indicates to the user the road receives some amount of regular use. A track could become overgrown by vegetation and disappear entirely. But even locally where I live these insignificant roads are not always tagged the same way as the roads can connect in both public and private land, so it’s not always easy to determine what their function is. (Unless such as here, where the road is so short, it’s clear it was made only to harvest the timber.)

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That’s how we have done mostly so far, but we quickly ended up with too many unclassified and it’s becoming hard to get an overview of the network.

An extra level would have solved the issue (e.g. quaternary) but without that option available I like @seichter’s method to use highway=service for these non-significant sections leading to places/properties outside residential areas.

We had also the issue that some organized editing teams mapped everything as highway=residential so having this clear distinction for residential areas would help a lot.

To me the main classification criteria is by main function/purpose.

But that is sometimes only feasible by local knowledge:
A road of 1 km may lead through fields and wood to a place with a few buildings.

  • This could be a tiny hamlet with a few families by public access → unclassified.
  • This could be a single large farmyard with access=destination → service.
  • It would not be hw=track since its main purpose is not access to field or wood.
    Unfortunately track has in common use a much wider meaning than in OSM tagging.
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