Should I map sidewalks? If yes - how? Using highway=footway?

Pros: adding valuable data for pedestrian routing

Cons: adding very large amount of data to OSM, every street usually have 2 sidewalks (on each side), greatly increasing increasing number of junctions (between streets and sidewalks). The rendered tiles could look messy and overcrowded.

If there is a place with tagged sidewalks, could you provide a link to it so I could see how it is done?

asked 20 Oct '10, 06:34

ivanatora's gravatar image

accept rate: 7%


There was a discussion about this on talk-au earlier this year.

(22 Oct '10, 02:12) samwilson

Good discussion!

(22 Oct '10, 12:57) ivanatora

You should avoid tagging them in a way that makes them indistinguishable from footways that are independent from roads. As long as you make sure that they are identifiable as sidewalks, it's the renderer's choice whether or not to display them. So if you are interested in mapping sidewalks, start mapping them.

As for how to map sidewalks, there is no clearly preferred solution. The two primary alternatives are:

  • as a tag on the road, using sidewalk=left/right/both/(none/no)
  • as a separate way next to the road. highway=footway + footway=sidewalk is an accepted tagging proposal for this style. It's not clear which tags or memberships, if any, should be copied from the road way to the sidewalk ways.

Valid arguments exist for both alternatives: Adding tags to a sidewalk is much easier with separate ways, and detailed information about crossings and junction layouts can barely or not at all be mapped with tags. Some feel, however, that separate geometry is redundant and makes some common operations (e.g. moving the road) more laborious. Separate geometry can also make certain rendering styles much harder to produce without overlaps or other, often zoom-dependent visual problems.

There are several proposals for more complex tagging, too, usually based on relations. While far less frequently used, these will often allow you to model not only sidewalks, but the entire structure of the road - including lanes for motorized traffic and dividers - with a very high level of detail. The area relation proposal is an example for this.

This issue will likely not be resolved soon, at least unless support for one of the solutions becomes more widespread in applications.

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answered 20 Oct '10, 14:53

Tordanik's gravatar image

accept rate: 32%

edited 25 Sep '12, 07:47

But I'd wonder how one could say the sidewalk is on the left or right side when left and right depend on both the direction of the street and the direction the person is walking down the street.

(25 Sep '12, 02:08) Sabra Sharaya

"left" and "right" are defined relative to the direction of the way. In the Potlatch editor, the way direction is shown by an arrow in the toolbox (below the mouse cursor in the picture below):

picture showing Potlatch2 with a non-oneway street running west to east

(25 Sep '12, 03:01) SomeoneElse ♦

Is there a reason for that duplicate tagging: "highway=footway + footway=sidewalk"? Would footway=sidewalk be not enough for a "standalone" sidewalk that is separated with barrier (grass etc.) from the road?

(05 Mar, 23:34) Kozuch

It would indeed, but the way would not be rendered. Having both tags allows a choice to be made about rendering (and indeed incorporation in routing apps).

(06 Mar, 09:52) SK53 ♦

I know this is an old discussion, but still wanted to add the fact that there is now an approved tag for mapping sidewalks:


With the new Bing maps backgrounds, tracing sidewalks has become a whole lot easier. I definitely think that this is not something that should be discouraged, since it could potentially make OSM the prime source of routing for wheelchair users and blind persons. Sure, in the near future it will be limited to urban areas, but that is also where potential use would be the greatest.

And, as mentioned earlier in the thread, if mapping separate sidewalks is undesired for whatever reason, using tags on the nearby street is also possible and does not have to be seen as mutually exclusive to mapping separate ways for sidewalks. Note that, at the time of writing, the tag to use for this is still only a proposal:


Finally, here's a sidewalk "landing page" from the wiki, explaining the current status:


As for the argument that the map will get cluttered, imho that is something that should be solved by adjusting the rendering.

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answered 29 May '11, 23:36

Martin%20Holmgren's gravatar image

Martin Holmgren
accept rate: 0%


It Depends

Are you mapping in a town or city where sidewalks/pavements are ubiquitous or in a rural area where they aren't? If the former, then sidewalks/pavements could arguably be described as "lower priority" items - people are going to assume that they're there and mapping them (either as separate ways or as tags against the road) doesn't necessarily add information.

Personally, I'm mapping in semi-rural areas and the existence of a sidewalk/pavement is one of the most important foot routing criteria, so I do try to add them. I tend to add them as tags rather than separate ways, because it's less effort to do that, but if your locality has a foot/cycle infrastructure that is largely distinct from roads than separate ways would make more sense.

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answered 08 May '11, 23:32

SomeoneElse's gravatar image

SomeoneElse ♦
accept rate: 15%

I country areas it useful to be able to join up routes over fields with bits of road that have a road-side path. many rural roads don't so its nice to know those that do

(09 May '11, 11:48) andy mackey

A lot of people make the comment that in urban/residential areas sidewalks always exist.

I'd have to say this is very country dependent. Here in Korea, more often than not, only the primary, secondary, and occasional tertiary roads in a city have actual sidewalks. For residential roads, pedestrians and traffic share the same way. Yes, unsafe, but that is how things have developed.

Occasionally if part of the city has a new-ish development it might include sidewalks on residential streets, but then again, maybe not.

So far I haven't really mapped any/many sidewalks and those that I have mapped have been done as separate ways because I feel that the way is needed as it connects to other paths which lead into parks, residential complexes or the like.

This is the first time I have heard of the "highway=footway + footway=sidewalk" scheme.

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answered 09 May '11, 11:07

alimamo's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

Not even country dependent. For example, in Los Angeles County, California, sidewalks are ubiquitous (even if nobody uses them ever). Meanwhile, in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, you have plenty of pedestrians, but sidewalks are few and far between.

(09 Aug '11, 23:43) Paul Johnson

As a compromise, I would only tag sidewalks where their existence or absence is unusual.

There is already a proposal to derive access rights from the road type (http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/OSM_tags_for_routing/Access-Restrictions ). I would use something similar for sidewalks.

For example: Residential streets almost always have sidewalks, so there I'd only tag if they are missing. On the other hand, trunk roads usually do not have sidewalks, to I'd tag them if they are there.

Of course, for this we'd really need a detailed proposal like the one for access restrictions, but until that is present, I'd generally only tag missing sidewalks for residential roads.

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answered 12 Jan '11, 02:15

sleske's gravatar image

accept rate: 25%

edited 12 Jan '11, 02:17

After a whole lot of other detail has been added, mapping them separately is more likely to start making sense. For most areas it's still at least many years in the future. We've done that for about half of the city so far. In the future more accurate positioning systems can make use of the data - think for example navigation for the blind, or wheelchair routing. Without a separate geometry for the sidewalks you also get misleading angles at the places where a sidewalk diverges away from the street to become a separate footway. Adding a single sidewalk of many sidewalks in an area hardly makes sense, se most users will start with tagging the roads footway/sidewalk=both/left/right/none.

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answered 26 Oct '10, 08:44

alv's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

I support the proposals to use tags. Without a way to join ways together, so they move as a unit, adding sidewalks creates far too much clutter. Using tags leverages what we've got in OSM, rather than starting yet another project that's just too big.

It makes a lot of sense to only tag the exceptions - that's something where we could go from no sidewalk data to a routing map for the blind in a short period of time. The problem is, what's the norm for an area? In a rural area you may have tens of thousands of miles with no sidewalks. In an urban area sidewalks are the norm, and all that's interesting are the gaps.

This gets into the issue of default land use for an area. Default speed limits. And default sidewalk condition. With good defaults, we could map the exceptions, and build a useful result soon.

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answered 12 Jan '11, 08:49

Bryce%20C%20Nesbitt's gravatar image

Bryce C Nesbitt
accept rate: 0%

Yes, the real problem is to get reasonable defaults. Basing them on the street type might be a start...

(13 Jan '11, 10:42) sleske

There is a image of the week about this: lot of footway.

In my mind sidewalks are just an other lane on the street. Street not just limited on asphalted part. So I think sidewalks may be tag like cycleway are. But this is not yet explored. This is my point of view today, need to be tested.

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answered 20 Oct '10, 09:27

frodrigo's gravatar image

accept rate: 14%


I have been tagging sidewalks that run parallel to roads as sidewalk=left/right/both/none. I believe that separate drawing has value only when there are a network of sidewalks running in all directions.

(20 Oct '10, 12:28) Mike N

Honest answer: No. No you should not map sidewalks.

But it is an interesting question. There's no limit to the amount of detail you can add to openstreetmap. You could add a millions of nodes in the park with plant=blade_of_grass ...At some point you draw the line, and stop at some level of detail. Although this is kind of a personal choice, it's sensible to align your choice with that of other mappers, particularly other mappers around you (if there are any). It's also sensible to look at the wider area and think about how you (and others) might aim to achieve a consistent level of detail across that area. It's surprising how much detail you can gather when there's lots of people involved, but there are limits to this reasoning. The vast majority of other mappers are not mapping sidewalks.

We had a discussion about this kind of thing over on Tom Chance's blog recently. Sidewalks ('pavements') were an example I gave of a silly level of detail which we have (almost) all decided not to map.

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answered 21 Oct '10, 16:09

Harry%20Wood's gravatar image

Harry Wood
accept rate: 14%


This clearly isn't the right answer to accept when it's so far in the negative.

(09 Aug '11, 23:41) Paul Johnson

I think what Harry Wood means is that the sidewalks are attributes of the road, not separate mapable objects. Thus when you map a road the number of sidewalks and side(s) of the road that they are on are represented as tags as part of the road, not as separate footpath(s) parallel with the road.

(07 Jun '15, 14:17) Huttite

There is no point in reopening a 5 year old question.

(07 Jun '15, 15:48) SimonPoole ♦
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question asked: 20 Oct '10, 06:34

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last updated: 06 Mar, 09:52

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