Pacific Crest Trail Tag Consistency

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in California, Oregon, and Washington is well mapped in OSM and is the best source for trail location that I know of. The problem I see is that some segments are tagged as highway=footway. The Hiking wiki indicates that the better tag is highway=path. The PCT was designed so that it could be utilized by stock, not just foot traffic so highway=footway is not appropriate.

Any comments or disagreements about changing the PCT tag to be highway=path ?


highway=path on its own is simply a generic trail with unspecified usage. If it’s decided to use highway=path, you’ll also want to add at least foot=designated to indicate the legal allowance for foot traffic (assuming there’s signage indicating that foot traffic is legally allowed to use it, which I have to assume is the case for a major trail like the PCT). I don’t think there’s an existing tag for indicating that driving of livestock is legally allowed (nothing comes up in taginfo), so you’d probably have to create one if you wanted to indicate this legal access.

However, if no other access tags are added in addition to foot=designated, then the combination highway=path + foot=designated is effectively equivalent to highway=footway and you really aren’t gaining anything.

I’d definitely expect some bits of the PCT to be other than “highway=footway” or “highway=path” (e.g. those used as agricultural tracks, logging roads etc.). My recollection of the (few) bits that I’ve walked of it was that they varied between what in England would have been called highway=bridleway and highway=track, with some bits of road (e.g. across the Columbia). I’d just try and find the most appropriate highway tag for each individual section.

The “highway=footway vs highway=path” debacle has been discussed to death elsewhere, so no need to repeat it here. Some OSM communities mostly use “path” for “something out in the wilderness” and “footway” for “something urban”, but some don’t.

Thanks for the comment.
I wasn’t referring to driving livestock, but rather that packing with horse, mule, or llama was a design consideration.
highway=bridleway could be applied but doesn’t imply foot traffic.
The tag highway=footway makes sense if you are in the mountain bike community since the PCT mostly does not allow cycle traffic.

Therefore I suggest that the best tagging for (most of) the PCT is:


Please be patient with a newbie trying to do the right thing to make OSM data the best available.

No impatience was intended; I was just trying to avoid repeating arguments about “highway=path vs highway=footway” that have been done to death elsewhere.

The story goes something like this…

A long time ago, OSM appeared. This happened in England*, where places where you can walk, cycle, ride a horse or drive a car tend to get categorised by whether what the place is “most suitable for” it rather than whether you “are legally allowed to”. A “footpath” is somewhere designed for you to walk, whether it’s in the middle of a town or half-way up a mountain. As OSM spread it became clear that this didn’t really fit with other countries’ definitions (AIUI particularly Germany, although I wasn’t really involved with OSM at the time). “highway=path” vs "highway=footway"became a bit of a comic meme with people on one side of the argument or the other writing things such as .

The current situation is that “highway=footway” vs “highway=path” usage in GB differs greatly from elsewhere, as you can see from a few country taginfo samples:

Subsequently a number of the renderers of OSM data decided that it’s not really useful to differentiate between highway=footway and highway=path (see Andy Allan’s comments at ). The decision of OSM’s “standard” renderer to drop the distinction caused a bit of discussion (see e.g. and ).

So on the subject of highway=footway vs highway=path, I wouldn’t worry about it - just try and get the other tags right (access, tracktype, if you feel inclined smoothness, etc.).

However, when you say “utilized by stock”, are you talking about just going up the PCT on horseback or are you actually proposing to drive a herd of cows up there? The former I can understand; the latter I’d expect you’d end up providing lunch to every bear in the county! In trying to encapsulate what “is allowed / you could probably get away with / not a good idea at all” I suspect that you might end up stretching what OSM’s tagging is capable of. How, for example would you tag the horse vs llama issues described at :slight_smile:

  • I’m not being ultra-parochial here. The laws governing where you can walk, cycle etc. really do vary among the countries of the UK, and you do get a different representation between e.g. England and Scotland.

Thanks for the UK background, I appreciate the information. While I still have plenty to learn about OSM I do have 25+ years of managing GIS data and designing databases and have gone through the painful process of changing the design and structure of spatial data. It isn’t easy to make things work for all or even most situations, especially when different languages, laws, and cultures are concerned.

(Off topic observation): If a subject has been “done to death”, that there is probably an underlying issue with the design that should be adjusted. It also appears to me that the “Open” part of OSM doesn’t refer to the design. If something causes problems it should be changed rather than saying we can’t change it because that’s the way it was first done a long time ago.

Back to the PCT, I’m not talking about a herd of cows. The design specifications for that trail called for use by horses (stock) as well as foot traffic. Personally I am a hiker and don’t really appreciate horses on the trail, but I want to add consistent and correct tagging to the features that represent this type of trail. The word I would prefer is “trail”, but “path” makes sense and “footway” is a foreign word here in the Pacific Northwest.

I think “footway” is a foreign word everywhere in the United States. My personal tagging is to use “path” for anything remotely resembling a hiking trail (e.g. anything that shows up as a single dashed line on a USGS Topo map). I use “footway” for things like a concrete surfaced pedestrian way through the middle of a city park.

Footway isn’t actually correct Buritsih English either. The technical meaning of footway is closer to the the US English “sidewalk”, but OSM uses it for footpath’s in general.