Paths and footpaths in England (and Wales?): designation for cycling

I have been surveying all the OSM roads and ‘paths’ in Truro, Cornwall, by bike (thanks to for the mapping tools!). I’ve attempted to cycle over all the ways that I’m allowed to in the parish of Truro. But I’m only 92% there (of about 160km altogether I reckon), partly because many roads are private (and weren’t marked as such). But mainly because many OSM editor-people have added footpaths as just ‘path’, which by default appears to allow cycling.
I have now edited all the inaccuracies I have found in Truro. But I wonder if the system can be changed (for the UK as a whole) so that a generic ‘path’ doesn’t allow cycling (or horseriding) by default. AFAIK, only public roads, bridleways and designated cycleways allow cycling.

Actually, ‘path’ is specifically for multiple types of access. If there is a primary use (‘footway’, ‘bridlepath’, ‘cycleway’) then that should be used on the way. If there is one primary mode of travel but others are allowed, then various access tags (e.g. ‘bicycle=yes’) can be added.

It sounds as if those public footpaths that were added as ‘path’ should be changed to ‘footpath’ if the only access allowed is foot. The other alternative would be to add ‘bicycle=no’, ‘horse=no’ tags to the ways but why have three tags when one (‘footway’) will do.

First of all…


Part of the problem with navigation tools based outside England and Wales is that they may not understand that tracks and paths might not be by default accessible. In many places in the world (including Scandinavia, and more locally, Scotland) you can presume some level of access by default. In England and Wales the opposite is true - you only have access (and this includes by foot or horse as well as by bike) if it is explicitly granted. Perhaps it’s a “public bridleway” which legally allow foot, horse and cycle access, or a “restricted byway” which legally allows pretty much any non-motorised access. I always add access tags if I know them, and I wrote about that last year.

“path” is one of those tags that seems to have a different meaning depending on who you ask. About all that you can glean from “path” without any other tags is that it’s a way of getting from A to B that is usable by one or more of foot, bicycle or horse, but it gives you no clues about whether you are legally allowed to do that or whether it is actually practical to do that. If an app or website suggests that you cycle down a highway=path with no other tags in England and Wales I’d argue that that is a bug in that website, albeit one that a bunch of developers in e.g. Germany or the USA are unlikely to understand, let alone fix.

What would really help OSM everywhere is to make sure that things added just as “highway=path” and also “highway=track” are better described. If something is private, perhaps a farm track that doesn’t allow public access or someone’s driveway, then please do add a tag such as “access=private” to make that clear.

Also, if something is tagged as “highway=path” but it’s really a footpath then add “foot=designated” (or just use “highway=footway” as n76 suggests, which is exactly equivalent, easier to understand and less typing). If it’s really a cycleway then add “bicycle=designated” (or just use “highway=cycleway” by the same logic). If you your “highway=path; bicycle=designated” is also usable by foot traffic (and most are in England and Wales) then you’ll also need to add “foot=designated” as well.

In addition to that, I’d suggest tagging public rights of way where they exist, so that people can infer what the legal right of access is, via “designation=public_footpath” or “designation=public_bridleway” or one of the other “designation” values that are used.

Along a public bridleway you can’t guarantee that it’ll be a comfortable ride but you can guarantee that it’ll be legal. This information can be used by people making maps (shameless plug: is my attempt at showing this info). For route planning that understands the OSM and the default access rules in England and Wales I’d suggest .


Yes, I think that’s the point I was trying to make. It’s all too easy to be ‘lazy’ and add a path without access information - so it defaults to bicycle access being true. There must be thousands of paths like this in England, and it’s going to take a huge effort to correct them.

Maybe I’m worying too much though :slight_smile: - since I was trying to traverse all the roads in the town, many (too many!) were cul-de-sacs. Incorrect info on those won’t affect routing apps, because they won’t be used anyway.

To be strictly accurate, a path without access information doesn’t default to “bicycles allowed” - it defaults to “we don’t have enough information to even know what this is, never mind what the legal status is”. It’s then down to data consumers, in this case, to guess what the access tags might be, and what sort of path it is. I’d definitely suggest that it’s a bug with to presume that you physically can cycle down a “highway=path with no other tags” anywhere, before we even think about access tags or default access tags.

A longstanding UK-based OSMer wrote about the inherant problems of the “not enough information” path tag at .

Yes it does. I just added a new path (it’s a real path, on the OS map but not yet on OSM). I didn’t change any access. But it has bicycles allowed and horses allowed.
Can you try it, maybe i’m doing something wrong?

Yes, I know Richard’s wotk, and subscribe to his already, Excellent stuff.

I think this is just the usual behaviour. Unless you add like bicycle=no to indicate that cycling is not allowed.

Is it possible to post a screenshot anywhere of whatever it is that says “bicycles allowed and horses allowed”? You might not yet be able to post images here, but perhaps you can upload it to an image hosting site somewhere?


The new path is here:
(it’s not yet accurately aligned; tried to survey it but far too muddy at the mo!)

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the editor could be improved, so it’s not possible to add a generic ‘path’ without defining the access rights.

Those are greyed out - they’re saying “you could set this to yes” not “it is set to yes”. Scroll down in “edit feature” to where it says “all tags” and it’ll show you the actual tagging. If you actually set a value you’ll see that the value you set is black, not grey.

To my eyes it looks very confusing - but I’m not a regular user of that editor.

It is confusing.
But the definition of the path tag is “open to all non-motorized vehicles and not intended for motorized vehicles unless tagged so separately.”
Here’s a good example of what I mean. There’s a big popular garden attraction in Cornwall, Heligan Gardens It’s criss-crossed by loads of footpaths, open to the public (you need to pay to go in). Someone has marked all the paths as generic. The ‘foot’ tag has been added but the ‘bicycle’ tag hasn’t been set as ‘no’, so all these paths come up as apparently rideable . I will suggest to Wandrer author to limit cycling routes uness bicyles are definately designated, but I’m sure other sites will be using the same (incorrect) information.

It is confusing. And a good data consumer needs to have checks to prevent things like bicycles using a path marked as bicycle=no.

I create my own maps and found that I couldn’t use a simple check for highway=footway and/or highway=path to determine if the way was what I would classify as a hiking trail. My current logic looks at a fairly wide variety of tags to guess if a way should be represented as a smooth walkway (typical in an urban/suburban environment suitable for pushing a baby stroller) or a back country trail probably requiring shoes or boots designed for support and traction.

A path to me is a track with only one rut, so open to single-tracked vehicles and animals and pedestrians. The wiki states only for non-motorized vehicles but I like to go by physical access: if it fits, it can go there. And at least in the Netherlands there is no general prohibition of motorized vehicles on unpaved roads or paths, I don’t know how that is in other countries. If it is not allowed for motorbikes then there is some kind of signage saying so.
If it is a footpath then use highway=footway. Or if you really want to map a path, use the access tags properly.

But since we have proper pedestrian-only methods of mapping I would very much like to voice my objection to handling highway=path like they were pedestrian-only.

As a follow-up to my posts here, I am starting to redefine many paths in Cornwall (i.e. within ~50 mile sof my home) as footpaths rather than generic paths.
e.g.this one:
To do this, I am using to find out which paths are marked as bicycles designated=yes (even if only in grey), then O.S. online mapping to check rights-of-way for footpaths or bridleways etc. Those on Wandrer which are marked as footpaths on OS, I am changing to footpaths on OSM - this changes bicycles to ‘not specified’ (also in grey)
Is this OK with everyone? Should I be changing more, and define bicycles=no for these?

Please dont use OS maps as the information there is not compatible with OSM (the very fact they we cant use them is why OSM exists). Instead Map the Paths is an app created using Open Data (including from the OS) which shows rights of way data which can be used for your purpose:

OK, but can you explain what you mean by ‘not compatible’ and ‘we can’t use them’? It would help me understand.

Looks like an excellent resource, thanks. The few paths I changed today agree on both OS and the council RoW on mapthepaths. so no harm done.

A question: if a track etc exists on OSM but does not appear as a RoW (or as a council road) on mapthepaths (e.g., does this imply that the track/road is private (the example runs through a windfarm…)?

The shortish answer is on the wiki.

A good read on how obstructive the OS used to be regarding people using their data is Andy Wightman’s blog from 2007.

So basically in OSM we need to be cleaner-than-clean with respect to using data which we can use. Fortunately in your case the PRoW data in Cornwall is entirely usable. This also means there’s another tool you can use to check progress created by Robert Whittaker (rjw62): This latter requires that the prow_ref tag is added (usually something like .

Elsewhere it’s often necessary to go out & visit the paths & even then if there are no unambiguous waymarkers showing the status of the path it cant have the designation tag added.

One of the biggest advantages of OSM is to we can be more realistic about the actual path on the ground. Years ago I was staying at my sister’s house in Carmathenshire & the bulk of footpaths on the Ordnance map were unusable. I wrote about it here (there are some other footpath-related posts on my blog which may be of interest too).



Thanks Jerry, I appreciate all that, very informative.
BTW in my experience it’s not just Carmethenshire, other parts of Wales are as bad. Last summer (between lockdowns) I tried to find paths near Bala (Merioneth) and in the middle of Cardiganshire, and had similar experiences to yours. I very rarely have a problem in Cornwall, which is just as rural.

Yes, I’m not surprised about anywhere in mid-Wales: relatively few locals will use paths. Either they own land and make use of their own or that of friends, or drive everywhere (both true of near neighbours of my sister). Councils have also had it as a low priority for many years, so many paths will just have been allowed to disappear. Other problems are that some are routed close to houses (often through gardens) which can be awkward. There may be more pressure this summer to support the path network if more people are holidaying outside of the honeypots. Even many years ago it was not uncommon for a farmer to follow with their dogs as you passed entirely legitimately through a farm. Once someone turned up with a shotgun whilst we were picnicking.

The area S of the A48 in Carmathenshire was coal mining country & I suspect there the rights of way are probably more heavily used.