No map is perfect

OpenStreetMap is not perfect. Maps are an approximation of the real world. No map can contain all the detail of the real world. A good map captures what is important for you.

For a cyclist, we are interested in path networks in Canberra where we ride. OpenStreetMap is the best map for Canberra as it captures all types of paths where we can ride in Canberra: not just roads, but community paths, management trails, multi-use track and singletrack. It captures information such as gates, stile and barriers to a cyclist. It also includes information regarding what is allowed and not. These permissions vary depending on the type of path but also the location and vehicle type (motor vehicle, bike, pedestrian, and equestrian) Land use varies with private and public land, reserves and close public land (bus depot). With management trails, multi-use track and singletrack the quality of the surface is important for choosing the route and this information is capture in OpenStreetMap was European and US track rating systems for mountain bikes. The US system covers just singletrack. The European system describes the conditions and can be applied to management trails, multi-use track and singletrack. Finally, OpenStreetMap is updated daily and includes information about building sites, street, path and bridge closures. All these things give you a complete picture of the city for route planning.


The imperfections of OpenStreetMap discussed in the Australian Forum of mappers. It is wrong to think of OpenStreetMap is a single standard rather it is a box of tools. These tools are applied in a country depending on what makes sense in that cultural context and legal jurisdiction. The most obvious difference between countries is whether a car drives on the left or right but there is many.

The Australian Forum works through how best to apply the OpenStreetMap tools and provide guidelines on how to best map in an Australian cultural and legal context. OpenStreetMap is open source and the mappers are volunteers that spend in some cases hundreds of hours improving the maps. As OpenStreetMap is intended to be useful and current first and foremost, so it is at the heart of the OpenStreetMap philosophy that anybody can go in and fix it up. The volunteer environment of many inexperience mappers and the continual flux of corrections and moderation can result in inconsistencies. It means that some areas can be a better map than others and the recommendations are not always applied consistently. As new challenges arise the recommendations to are in flux. OpenStreetMap is community work and the constructive chaos is typical of the open-source community.

Discussion of map issues in the ACT

There was a discussion of issues with OpenStreetMap in the ACT on the Australian Forum (OSM AU Forum). There were few answers but it highlights the difficulties and nature of the work of the mappers. Below are a sequence of posts on cycling from the OSM AU Forum.

  1. Topic B: inconsistencies, idiosynchrosies and vagueness (20/9/2019)
  2. Topic: Principles of tagging (5/10/2019)
  3. Discussion D: mapping ACT for cyclists – complying with ACT law (28/9/2019)
  4. Discussion K: Evaluation of ACT paths audit 2012 and the OSM ACT dataset (8/10/2019)

The last post concludes:

  • Community paths ( permitted for both bikes and pedestrians) make up 98% off all paths that exist in the ACT but…
  • Editor presets overwhelmingly dominate in OSM dataset for the ACT: almost all the paths in the ACT are tagged with the Foot Path preset or the Cycle Path preset and some with the Cycle & Foot Path preset. The OSM ATG (ed. Australian Tagging Guidelines) recommended tagging is NOT USED in the ACT.
Photo by Christina Morillo on

Topic B: inconsistencies, idiosynchrosies and vagueness

20/9/2019 posted on OSM AU forum

A special thank you for the links yesterday. I have read them. “Australian Tagging Guidelines” and “Good practice” are worth knowing and I am very grateful for our forefathers that put so much effort into writing these documents. It worth noting, however, when you compared the two that they are riddled with inconsistencies, idiosyncrasies and vagueness. It is worth remembering this when we experience another of those “I am right, you are wrong” conversations.

Reading “Australian Tagging Guidelines,” I thought of Geffory Rush from Pirates of the Carribean, “they are more guidelines than rules.” Unapproved tracktypes for 4WD (inventing tags, don’t exist but perhaps they should) and small towns called cities so they appear the map (mapping for the renderer), and the principle of “we map what is there” but then don’t map what is private (often difficult to verify too). The descriptions are full of contradictions and vagueness. The “Lifecycle prefix” wikitext needs more work, particularly examples of use to get consistency in its application. As much of it is not rendered (Mapnik), mapping it could be considered as a low priority.

Harry Wood’s blog “community smoothness” addresses vagueness in language and how everybody has a different opinion of what a text means. That is not new of course and with certainty, everybody has an opinion about what the right way is. It is human nature, when it comes to our own beliefs, that every evidence supporting it is embraced and every evidence against excluded.

Finally, it is easy to forget that the Wiki is written in dozens of different languages and there will be inconsistencies between Wiki entries in different languages. I can vouch that for two. English and German wiki pages descriptions are not surprisingly culture-specific (see also the chemist/pharmacy/drug store discussion for AU/UK/US comparison).

Despite our best efforts inconsistencies, idiosyncrasies and vagueness will reign in the OSM anarchy.

Photo by Christina Morillo on

Topic: Principles of tagging

5/10/2019 OSM AU forum

Principles of tagging:

  1. Tagging should be consistent with the laws of the jurisdiction
  2. Tagging should not be code but be explicit
  3. Tagging should be useful
  4. Tagging should be intuitive
  5. Tagging should be easy (regional presets)

I will comment on the first two.

Principle 1

ONE set of rules for tagging paths across all Australia is not possible ie each state needs its own section on the ATG. Australia is a federation. Each state makes its own road rules. State road rules override the “Australian Road Rules”. You cannot sign everything. Even when it is not signed, the laws still apply with penalties and potential prosecution and imprisonment (8 months in one recent example, 2019). Most states laws are not signed but you are expected to know them.

The ACT the law is clear. All paths can be used by cyclists, pedestrians, AND any wheeled vehicle that is not motorised, without exception. Combustion motored vehicles are not permitted on paths of all types. Electric motored skateboards, bikes, mobility devices, and soon scooters ARE permitted. The motors have power limits (ed. 250 W). Speed limits apply for footpaths of 25kmh for all e-devices.

The liability situation is also clear. If a bike hits a pedestrian the cyclist is always at fault. This is not true on the road for motor vehicles versus cyclists.
Road cycling is not all the popular in the ACT but generally permitted unless there is a sign that says otherwise EVEN on motorways in cycle lanes.

ACT road rules “Road Transport (Road Rules) Regulation 2017” and the bike rules are in section 15, page 260, if you would like to read them.

Principle 2

Tagging should not be code and be explicit in what it means. If the path is 3m wide we should specify that explicitly and we should not code this as “footpath”. If the width is not rendered, then that is the problem for the renderer.

Wide paths are STANDARD now in the ACT. Narrow paths are historical artefacts. Here is how the NEW roads and paths of all types are constructed in the ACT. Look for this document: Municipal Infrastructure Design Standards Part 05 Active Travel Facilities Design (PDF).

There is NO uniform standard for OLDER paths of any type ACT. They can be any width, made of any material, widely varying quality, no consistency in signage, don’t usually form complete networks, stop and start arbitrarily (particularly at boundaries), there no regular maintenance, and no regular audit of the infrastructure. The ACT Government builds it and abandons it.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on

Discussion D: mapping ACT for cyclists – complying with ACT law

28/9/2019 posted on OSM AU forum

Abbreviation: ATG – Australian Tagging Guidelines

The Issue

The way you use a map changes the way you see it. I am very interested in cycling. I am interested in capturing the information for cyclable paths so that maps can be made for all types of biking, including MTBs.

The situation for OSM in the ACT for cyclists is unfortunate. The paths you are allowed to ride with a bike are completely inconsistently tag. The cause is no logical inconsistency between the ATG, the editor presets, the standard rendering practice, and finally the many ways creative mappers have tried to solve the problem in the last decade.

The last is tragic and frustrating as mappers continually undo other mappers work and redo the tags their own preferred way. Over time, the path tagging does not improve but across the ACT become increasingly randomise. Where the congested areas it happens most often. The paths in Commonwealth Park on Lake Burley Griffin has been retagged over and over again, many times each year. Some paths alternate regularly between the footpath and bike path preset, even though neither applies in the ACT according to the ATG. ☹

Table of ID Editor presents, path types and rendering for each environment

ID presetCorrect in the ACTtaggingID editor line styleMapnik line style
ATG and ACT law (Path shows as the preset symbol)Legal default path typehighway=path bicycle=designated foot=designated segregated=nogrey/brown dottedblue dotted
cycle pathNohighway=cyclewayblue dottedblue dotted
cycle and foot pathNo but closehighway=cycleway bicycle=designated foot=designatedblue dottedblue dotted
foot pathNohighway=footwaygrey dottedred dotted
cycle ONLY – no presetYes (rare)highway=path bicycle=designated foot=nogrey/brown dottedblue dotted
pedestrian ONLY – no presetYes (rare)highway=path bicycle=no foot=designatedgrey/brown dottedred dotted

Finally, I suggest one simplified way of path tagging for the ACT at the bottom of this text.

What is the best way to restore consistency across the OSM data set for the ACT?

Most commonly used keys

These keys are for bike and footpaths: highway, foot, bicycle, footway, segregated. The tags used in the ACT OSM maps in all combinations are found below. The tags foot=no or bicycle =no is only correct when the path is signed that way for segregated paths and very few have been built. The key footway is used more commonly in the south of Canberra and seldom used in a way which is consistent with the ATG or ACT law, further increasing the inconsistency.

Any of the following combinations of highway, foot, bicycle, footway, and segregated can be found in the ACT.

  • segregated=no/yes
  • highway=path/footway/cycleway
  • foot=designated/yes/blank/no
  • bicycle= designated/yes/blank/no
  • footway=sidewalk OR missing

When use footway=sidewalk – really only in town centres and almost never in the suburbs

The ATG says

Under ACT law, both pedestrian and cyclists are both allowed to use the “footpath”. Here is the relevant section of the ATG.
“If bicycles are permitted by law then use highway=path.
Do not use highway=footway unless bicycles are expressly prohibited from using that path.
Pedestrian ONLY paths are very rare in the ACT.

What is ALSO very rare in the ACT is bike ONLY path, which the ATG calls the “Australian Cycle Path (bicycle-only sign, pedestrians prohibited)”, and the properly separated shared paths, which the ATG calls “Australian Separated Footpath (bicycle and pedestrian separated by a line)”. The total length of paths of these types in the ACT would be in the order of 10-20km.

Most common types of ridable paths in the ACT

Type A

Common: “Australian Shared Path (bicycle and pedestrian sign)” – 329km in 2012.
The ATG says the tags should be:

  • highway=path
  • foot=designated
  • bicycle=designated
  • segregated=no

Type B

Under ACT law, pedestrian and cyclists are both allowed to use any “footpath”. A “footpath” is any unsigned path separated from the road. There were more than 2000km of these “footpaths” in the ACT in 2012. Conclusion: in the ACT, almost all “footpaths” are effectively shared.

  • highway=path
  • foot=designated
  • bicycle=designated
  • segregated=no

Type A and type B paths cannot be distinguished from each other with these tags alone. In real life the path markings and signage should help you distinguish the two. Generally, path markings and signage are not in OSM.

Concluding remarks to paths types in the ACT

There are effective three paths types in the ACT. The ATG recommend Type A and Type B paths are tagged the same way and are 99% or paved, ridable paths in the ACT. I will simply refer to them as the DEFAULT type.

Here is a simple way of changing the default, to the bicycle-only or pedestrian-only path type. Only one tag needs to be changed for corrections. It does not require you to use a preset.

keyDEFAULTPedestrians ONLYCyclists ONLY

Photo by fauxels on

Discussion K: Evaluation of ACT paths audit 2012 and the OSM ACT dataset

8/10/2019 posted on OSM AU forum

The Issue

It is clear from the OSM dataset for in the ACT, that it is the product of using the editor presets for paths. The OSM Australian Tagging Guidelines (ATG) is consistent with the real use and the legal definition of “community paths” in the ACT (and verifiable) but this is completely ignored by the mappers. No single incidence of this tagging exists in the ACT. Using ACT data from 2012, 98% of ACT paths should be “community paths”. The disconnect between the OSM ATG (correct) and the OSM path data (false) for the ACT is disturbing.

What you need to know

  • Community paths ( permitted for both bikes and pedestrians) make up 98% off all paths that exist in the ACT.
  • Editor presets overwhelmingly dominate in OSM dataset for the ACT: almost all the paths in the ACT are tagged with the Foot Path preset or the Cycle Path preset and some with the Cycle & Foot Path preset. The OSM ATG recommended tagging is NOT USED in the ACT. Prove it yourself below. 🙂

Most paths in the ACT are community paths

“Community paths” (official term) are the most common path type in the ACT and correspond in the OSM ATG to the tagging:

  • highway=path
  • foot=designated
  • bicycle=designated
  • segregated=no

Quoting the ACT document (link below) “Guidelines for community path repairs and maintenance”:

“Footpaths and cycle paths (referred to as community paths) are provided to assist the community with walking and cycling activities. As at 30 June 2012, there was 2,533 kilometres of community paths in the ACT (2,190 kilometres of footpaths and 343 kilometres of off-road cycle paths). Community paths can be used by pedestrians, cyclists and motorised mobility devices (electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters/buggies that cannot travel over 10 kilometres per hour).”

Policy for footpath maintenance, ACT Government, 2012.

Back in 2012, there were 2533km of paths. As far as I know there where no bike ONLY and pedestrian ONLY paths at that time. Some bike ONLY paths have been built since: the Civic city loop (approx 4km in 2013), Woden bike path (2km), and Belconnen Bikeway (4.7km to be completed in 2020). None of these paths existed in 2012 so the calculation below is conservative. In the new suburbs, many community paths have been built since. They are not “footpaths”!

(1) Total paths in community paths 2533km
(2) Total “bike ONLY” paths know: approx 25km
(3) Double item 2 for possible “pedestrian ONLY” path duplication (unlikely): total now approx 50km
(4) There is approx 50km of bike ONLY and pedestrian ONLY paths
(5) Calculate bike ONLY and pedestrian ONLY paths as a percentage of the total 1.97% (50/2533)
(6) The difference gives you the percentage of community paths (both bike and pedestrian) = 98%

Community paths (both bike and pedestrian) make up 98% off all paths in the ACT.

Frequency distribution of path presets in the OSM ACT dataset

This can be best done visually from a live data set using the overpass-turbo tool. This “analysis” is a visuall comparison the standard ID editor presets with the ATG tagging recommended for the ACT. I will provide a link for each scenario.

Almost all the paths in the ACT are tagged with the Foot Path preset or the Cycle Path preset and some with the Cycle & Foot Path preset.

Foot Path preset (symbol “walking man“)

frequency of tagging in OSM dataset: VERY COMMON
overpass-turbo link view


Cycle Path preset (symbol blue bike)

frequency of tagging in OSM dataset: COMMON
overpass-turbo link view

Cycle & Foot Path preset (symbol blue bike) on ID editor

frequency of tagging in OSM dataset: NONE
overpass-turbo link view

ATG recommended tagging for the ACT Community Path

frequency of tagging in OSM dataset: RARE
(but leave off the segregated=no and you get more)
overpass-turbo link view


What should we do about this?

Photo by fauxels on

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s