Why is "Minor/Unclassified Road" one type?

Meaning, why aren’t there two types, i.e. a “Minor Road” and an “Unclassified Road”?

I’m kinda new, and consider minor to be quite a bit different from unclassified.

I looked on the "info page, https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway=unclassified , and was surprised that here only the word “unclassified” appears in the tag, and the text describes it as a “minor public road”.

Why are they lumped together?

Seems it would make more sense as two separate types.

Thanks in advance,


For better or worse, the road classifications used in OSM came out of the UK and reflect practices there. Unfortunately those practices don’t always map nicely into how other parts of the world think about and deal with roads. I find that the US classification of roads (which varies some from state to state) to be hard to map into the UK/OSM model.

With respect to a US “minor road”, what UK/OSM classification would you pick?

Probably not any of the through road types of “tertiary”, “secondary”, “primary”, “trunk” or “motorway”. Though in some cases tertiary might fit but assume the road in question is not connecting different hamlets so doesn’t merit that high a classification.

So you are left with “track”, “service”, “unclassified” or “residential”. Probably not a track nor service road if you are looking at something that is a public road. So you are left with residential or unclassified. Got houses at pretty regular and relatively short intervals? Then residential. What is left for “minor road”? Only “unclassified”.

If OSM got its start elsewhere or got big in someplace other than the UK early on, then maybe the OSM road classifications would be different and more closely match US practice. But that didn’t happen.

An “unclassified” road is literally a minor road in the UK, so they’re not “two separate types” at all.

I think it’s quite nice to have a corner of the Internet that isn’t dominated by US usage. :wink:

from https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:highway=unclassified

I will add clarification that it is coming from UK road system

Thank you all for that information. Very interesting, and informative.

I had not considered that the two types were considered the same, as in my American way of thinking Minor is a classification. I might have taken unclassified to mean, “We know there is a road there, we just don’t know what it is (i.e. from satellite imagery).”

As I think about, and read above, every road type does seem to classified, so why have an unclassified? But then again, this from my American way of thinking.

I did see, at the above link, “Use the mapping customs in your own country, together with your knowledge and judgment.” and also the NOTE, which I think people will find helpful. I did.

Thanks again, Eric

I’ve made some further changes to Mateusz’s intro, which I hope are helpful.

In UK terms, it means it is at the very bottom of the hierarchy of public roads. All roads start there, then they are uprated (‘classified’) according to their systemic importance. Roads can go up and down: for an amusingly pedantic discussion (I’m a contributor), see here.

We do have truly unclassified roads: those are ‘unadopted’ - in other words, (usually) used as a public right of way, but not public responsibility.

Edit: EricJRW, you could put a bit of detail in the US section of highway=tertiary to help others with your query.

I am in total agreement. There is a classification of road missing.
In the cities and town there are through routes that are of the higher classifications from Trunk down to Tertiary. Even the unclassified can be a through route. But what the town has is another lower level road classification “residential” which is not a through route but is still a public road that gives access to the houses along that road and that the private service/driveway comes off…
In the rural areas we still have all the higher level roads through and we have the unclassified that is connecting the smaller communities such as hamlets. But we do not have the equivalent “residential road” (minor rural) which is still a public road that gives access to the farmyards and isolated dwellings along that road and that their service/driveway would come off. It is not a track because it is not a private road for farmers, foresters and nature reserve wardens to get around their land.
In my view this is what is causing a lot of confusion in the rural areas.

You can use highway=residential. There’s nothing to say that it has to be restricted to urban areas.

I’m pretty sure highway=residential is inappropriate for wilderness or farmland areas.

Routers seem to agree, and will send you on huge detours rather than go through wilderness “residential”, because they assume speeds will be slow.