Why can't I delete this trail?

I would like to alert the community to a new wiki article titled “Why can’t I delete this trail?” and ask the community for help in further editing and refining it:


This is intended to be a resource that we can point a land manager or private landowner to when they delete trails on land they own or manage. These types of disputes often lead to edit wars, so having a helpful page we can share can hopefully reduce these disputes.

Another member of the US community made a great start on it, and a few of us have added some edits as well. The intent is to make this general-purpose and not US-specific.


@ZeLonewolf That looks good.

I consider OSM to be like the New York Times or Washington Post (or any other journalistic enterprise). We may get input from the government, but ultimately we report the facts - which for OSM is what is observable on the ground.


A frequent reason for deletion is also not “protecting the landscape”
but “protecting my privacy from hikers”, where land owners (or HOAs or
similar organisations that represent the interests of a group of land
owners) want to deter third parties from using a path; sometimes legally
and sometimes illegally.


Just today I undeleted a path that recently got deleted by a concerned contributor: My reasoning was: The path is shown in administrative map, the path is clearly observable from terrain model, the path has tiny strava heat. I turned it into abandoned:path purely based on history of the mapping. That conveys for me that the local rambling club put up signs that the path is no longer serviced. Is there need for a decomissioned: prefix?

BTW: Rambling associations cannot put access=no on paths, only the administration can. BTW2: Geometry of the path was certainly wrong, Strava heat much more closely matches the administratively mapped path than the OSM path.

Thanks for putting this together. Reports of trails on private property are a common occurrence on the DWG and the ways to handle them are outlined well here.

One suggestion to further @woodpeck ’s point is that there are occasional cases where we do need to delete trails. My suggestion would be to include a section that says something to the effect of, ‘This trail contains private information or copyrighted information,’ And then give a contact email address for the data working group. Outcomes could be reaction or some other action. Those are relatively rare, so you can put that towards the bottom of the list.

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Just to add, if reported we could still send reports down the paths identified in the article. Delete is the last resort (vandalism is another potential edge case). I much prefer access or lifecycle tags.

I love the idea and execution of this wiki page - as others have noted I believe it will be a great resource in situations where trails are getting deleted incorrectly.

Following up on an OSMUS Slack thread, I’d like to ask about the framing, though: is "Why Can’t I Delete This Trail" an intentional and effective framing for this content?

On the one hand I like the tongue-in-cheek aspect, and I can see its usefulness in addressing a direct complaint in that vein.

However, something a bit less directional and maybe a bit more technically-focused may be more appropriate? “Deleting Trails in OSM”?

I’m thinking about the situation where this article is going to be deployed.

If I’m disgruntled and deleting a trail, and someone sends me an article titled “Why Can’t I Delete This Trail,” it’s going to disgruntle me more.

If someone sends me an article titled “Deleting Trails in OSM,” I at least might come to it with the same curiosity that one might bring to a new piece of relevant information. Of course, upon reading it, they’ll learn the answer to the “why can’t I delete this” question.

I just feel like we want people to actually read this and learn from it and, frankly, not piss them off.


Just a minor point, but I wondered what is the intention behind referring to “publicly accessible” land at the very start? I thought a lot of the advice would apply equally to private land (e.g. if you have a private trail that is prominent in aerial imagery, it is probably better to tag it correctly than delete it and risk having another mapper add it again).


I think so too. Perhaps removing that reference would be better?

How about “Deleting Private or Sensitive Trails on OSM”?

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How about something like “Reclassifying vs deleting trails in OSM”? It would focus on the “What should I do instead?” part which seems the most actionable. Technically they can delete trails but it’s frowned on.

This comment in another thread worded it quite well, it expands on the “Deletion can hinder collaboration” part.


The original version of the title sounds perfect to me. Not everything is improved by being picked over by a committee :slight_smile:

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Thanks, exactly. This was the point I was hoping to make. I like your suggestion.

You’re right. Nobody’s perseverating here. My intention is to get this right. I hope you can help us, perhaps with some concrete detail on why you’d suggest keeping the title the same?

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It’s short, and it addresses exactly the issue that someone being referred to that web page will have.

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Why can’t I delete this trail?
This title is misleading to the maximum. In many cases, we will have to refer people to this article who have already deleted a trail. And they will rightly reply: What’s the point of this question? Yes, I can delete, I’ve already done it. And I will do it again if some idiot restores the path.


Maybe then “Why shouldn’t I delete this trail?”?
“Can’t” sounds like you are indeed unable to delete it, even though you can. “Shouldn’t” sounds more suggestive onto why a trail must remain on the map.


I think it’s a fine article. However, most disputes we have here in Nederland are not over trails, but over paths, tracks, alleys, serviceways and driveways. The reasoning applies, but I don’t think the owners/operators will get that far.

I think the original title is fine. “Why we don’t delete trails” could also work (though we do delete trails that truly don’t exist). No need to add “in OSM” to the end. The article is on the OSM wiki so that much is clear.

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I guess I’m just bristling at the tone of those titles. To me, through the screen, they read as adversarial and proscriptive.

I care about this because these kinds of trail-deletion corrections are often the first touchpoint someone has with OSM. I’d like to convey a tone of “welcome, we’re glad you’re here, here’s some context” rather than “We don’t do that here.”

"Reclassifying and Deleting Trails" seems fine to me. Or, heck, even “I found a trail I need to delete.”, if we wish to stay targeted.



If someone sends me an article titled “Deleting Trails in OSM,” I at
least might come to it with the same curiosity that one might bring to a
new piece of relevant information. Of course, upon reading it, they’ll
learn the answer to the “why can’t I delete this” question.

I don’t mind “Why can’t I delete this trail” (the “can’t” here being in
the sense of “you can’t just grab the chocolate and run away without
paying” - you can but it’s not going to end well).

I wouldn’t have an issue with “Deleting trails in OSM” either - as long
as we don’t get some joker then saying “wait a minute, the contents of
the wiki page don’t match the headline, let me replace the contents with
instructions on how to delete paths in various editors” :wink:

I just feel like we want people to actually read this and learn from it
and, frankly, not piss them off.

There comes a point when we need to lay down the law and risk pissing
them off. We don’t “turn the other cheek” or continue to “assume good
intentions” once someone has started to violate OSM with intent.

But I don’t insist on this happening in the headline.

Having said that, much of the text is written in the first person, so to
match that the headline would probably have to be “How can I delete
trails from OSM”?