Using OSM to improve bicycle routefinding in my community

Hi! So I have been trying to find a good way to generate routes from point to point that gives low stress bicycle routes, avoiding a few key white-knuckle roads that google maps and others consistently want me to use. I know the good and bad roads, but I want to be able to direct new cyclists to a tool that consistently gives good routes in my area. During my research it occurred to me that perhaps by editing the underlying OSM data I could cause various mapping apps to stop sending bicycles down these 5 lane 40mph arterials, at least when there are good alternatives just a block or two out of your way. Any tips?

The first step would be to make sure the three characteristics you identified are already accounted for in the database:

  • Set the Lanes field (lanes=* tag) to 5.
  • Set the Speed Limit field (maxspeed=*) to 40 mph.
  • Choose a highway classification that conveys the road’s importance as an arterial road. (In the absence of a speed limit, some routing engines assume a speed limit, usually incorrectly.)

Also add navigation-centric details to other streets in the area that you’d want a routing engine to use as an alternative. If that doesn’t help, what other characteristics about these arterials make them harrowing for cyclists? There may be conventions for tagging some of those characteristics as well.

Finally, it would help if you could give some concrete examples, and also indicate which applications you’re testing. After all, it might be a software bug rather than a data issue.


Thanks for the response. I have tried using Komoot, Strava, Google Maps, Cycle.Travel, Brouter and a handful of other sites whose names I have already forgotten.

Here is a concrete example (Location: Columbia, SC) :

Mapping a route from my home to my work, most of the mapping apps either want to send me westbound on Trenholm Rd from E Buchannan drive to Adger Rd. or want me to take MacGregor Drive across Beltline Blvd.

That section of Trenholm Rd is a 3 lane (1 lane each direction with a center turn lane) 35mph road where cars routinely speed because there are no curves or anything and which has no shoulders. Its a road that I would ride on only if I had no other choice, like if my destination was ON that road.

The Route that uses MacGregor is better, because it keeps you off trenholm, but it also sends you across Beltline (5 lanes, 40mph) at the top of a hill that is blind in both directions with no signal to stop traffic.

The Route that the aps should give is taking E Buchannan Across beltline where it turns into W Buchannan and taking Heatherwood rather than Adger.

I am interested in your bullet points, Where are you making these settings adjustments? What app are you using?

Have you tried using ? It’s a service based on OSM data aimed explicitly at providing lower-traffic bicycle directions.

I don’t know your exact start and destination, but e.g. Bike map | Cycle route planner | East Buchanan at St. Clair to Adger at Devine, it gives a route via East Buchanan, West Buchanan, and Heatherwood as you suggested.

Minh should be able to help you with OSM edits to make directions even better, and hopefully improve it in other apps.

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(In this forum, you’ll often see something like key=value or key=*. That’s a reference to the raw tags you can view by expanding the Tags section at the bottom of the left sidebar. You normally don’t have to worry about those if you’re using the Fields section further up. We often refer to raw tags here because not everyone is using the same editor.)

It looks like you’ve already correctly added a lane count and speed limit using iD’s Lanes and Speed Limit fields. The third point, about highway classification, has to do with choosing the feature’s type, which can range from a minor classification like Residential Road (highway=residential) to a major one like Primary Road (highway=primary). Some of these applications give you the option to avoid busy streets, which they presume to be the streets with major classifications. That said, the classifications in this area look accurate already.

You can indicate that Trenholm lacks shoulders by adding the shoulder=no tag. (There’s no field for it, so you need to use that Tags section.) Some applications do try to avoid sending cyclists down roads when they encounter this tag.

Unfortunately, we aren’t collecting information about traffic volumes or stretches where motorists routinely go over the speed limit. Some companies collect traffic information automatically and combine it with OSM data in their applications, but we have no control over that.

You’ve discovered the Advisory Speed (maxspeed:advisory=*) field, which is a good way to encourage motorists to take it easy around curves and such (wherever there’s a yellow advisory speed sign). Some applications will display the advisory speed in place of the legal speed limit. Additionally, most routers will prefer the advisory speed over the legal speed limit. While this can’t force drivers to slow down, the application will estimate a more conservative, realistic travel time, alleviating some time pressure on the part of the driver.

One other thing you can do that might help bicycle routing would be to add traffic signals at intersections that have them. A good router might prefer to cross a primary road like Beltline at an intersection that has a traffic signal, if one is mapped.

For example, it looks like Buchanan and Beltline intersection isn’t currently mapped as a traffic signal. To change this in the built-in iD editor, select the intersection point and change the Feature Type from “Point” to “Traffic Signals” (you might need to type to get it), something like this:

then select “Traffic Signal” from the results list:


and save the changes.

One thing to note about making changes in OSM is that it might take some time for applications to update with the changes. Depending on the application this could be a week or more.

Wow! These responses are awesome. I am going to just put in some time making sure the good intersections with signals are labeled as such and the sketchy roads with no shoulders or advisory speed limits are correct.

Upon using google maps from several different locations in my neighborhood, I learned there is a sharp line where it switches from preferring the good route and preferring the bad route. Im somewhat frustrated by that because for someone who lacks the experience to tell a good route from a bad one, being on the wrong side of that line means having a much less safe and less enjoyable ride.

I like the site except that its address search is kinda lame.

I have to say I am impressed with this community.


I would add to your list:

Bicycle - OpenStreetMap Wiki is giving a good overview. Though is focusing mainly on cycle lanes.