On a university or college campus, what's the best way to tag roads. I often see residential, but is that really right? Especially if most of the campus is educational buildings and offices, not just dorms and apartments, there has to be a more accurate road type.

asked 06 Mar '14, 14:52

jonesydesign's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%


I appreciate all the discussion going on about this. I figured it might help to share the campus I've been working on and had in mind when I posted the question. The particular case I've been thinking about is Western Michigan University found here: http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=15/42.2835/-85.6092 It has public roads with standard signs and a 25 MPH speed limit. There aren't any gates or anything separating it from the rest of town and it's patrolled by WMU Police, which is a branch of the city police.

(07 Mar '14, 14:17) jonesydesign

Most roads on University campuses will be private and to my mind fit well with highway=service.

Obviously there is then the problem of differentiating these roads because some are minor alleyways, and others act as distributors to access significant buildings (not least football stadia in the US), or are on regular bus routes.

Some roads in campuses are truly residential - mainly for staff rather than student housing - but for the most part I feel that use of this tag would be erroneous (particularly if consumers are using it to derive urban areas).

Other indications are :

  • Non-standard signage (typography, form etc.)
  • Reduced speed limits
  • Lift gates or other access control methods at major entry points (only active locally in the mornings)
  • Extensive use of traffic calming measures even on the more significant roads
  • Asset codes on street furniture (lamp posts etc) are disjunct from those of the local government
  • Much higher usage of surveillance cameras (at least in UK) compared with all residential areas other than 'sink' estates notorious for crime.
  • Enhanced levels of provision for cyclists and wheelchair users
  • Nature of how parking rules are enforced (is it a public or private body, what sort of implicit contract are you entering into when you park there).
  • If they don't like you taking photos security can run you off campus

All of these indicate that the campus is private land and most access whether by vehicle or on foot is permissive. In general the balance of access switches from a presumption of accessible with unclassified and residential to one where this is not assumed with service. In other words it is necessary to tag access on all roads if using the former two tags.

The danger of classifying them as residential, unclassified or even tertiary for the major distributors in the campus is that these can lead to a confusing picture particularly for routers. Note that the same issues arise for other campus-type establishments: large hospitals, commercial and industrial sites.

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answered 07 Mar '14, 13:43

SK53's gravatar image

SK53 ♦
accept rate: 20%


At least for the US (SK53, are you in the UK?) I think you're overgeneralizing to say that "most roads on university campuses will be private." On most campuses I'm familiar with, most of the roads are standard public roads and should be tagged as such. This may depend somewhat on whether it's a public or private institution, but even then, I can think of small private colleges with public roads going through them. (and, conversely, I have run across some public institutions with access control points as you mention, but they seem less common).

(07 Mar '14, 14:53) neuhausr

I am not sure that even if a road is on private property and owned and maintained by the private owner that highway=service is automatically appropriate. In a some parts of the world there are, for example, private toll roads that are basically motorways and should be tagged as such.

Most, if not all, the roads at the local private university can't really be distinguished from roads maintained by the surrounding city and/or county by any on the ground observation. They should be tagged by how they look and function. Some tertiary, some residential, some unclassified, some service.

(07 Mar '14, 18:13) n76

For places like Thailand, where university campuses are fenced-off properties, the suggestion for highway=service seems perfectly appropriate. I can see how things can be much trickier elsewhere though.

(09 Mar '14, 18:01) Paul_012

I would say that these roads should probably be residential (or service in some cases). This is one of those cases where the actual usage of a tag is slightly different than the literal meaning of the words. I think it's pretty accurately described in the United States roads tagging wiki page:

"Roads that do not qualify as tertiary roads ... in urban residential areas get [tagged] highway=residential."

"Roads through parking lots (or campgrounds), alleys, corporate driveways, and other special roads generally intended for travel to a particular destination get highway=service. "

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answered 06 Mar '14, 15:29

neuhausr's gravatar image

accept rate: 21%


Ah, but many roads on a university campus are not "in urban residential areas". I would lean toward highway=unclassified for those roads through areas with educational buildings.


Having written that, I checked and the roads within a major university near me are tagged residential so I guess I might be in the minority.

(06 Mar '14, 15:54) n76

I basically see highway=residential as the default, at least in the US. That seems to fit the general tagging usage, but I'm always open to different ideas!

Also, I'm just not sure how unclassified fits in. Is there a distinction to be made between residential and unclassified based on the physical attributes of the road? Or is it the same kind of road, just in different surroundings? That sort of thing can sometimes be hard to tell when doing remote mapping.

(06 Mar '14, 16:08) neuhausr

"unclassified" and "residential" have more or less the same "importance" in the OSM road network. Just remember that some routing engines might prefer "residential" roads for bicycle routes (supposing that "unclassified" are more for motor vehicles or cars drive a bit faster than in residential areas).

(06 Mar '14, 16:52) Pieren

I think the main reason why highway=residential is so common in the US is because the TIGER import script defaulted to it. However, this was clearly inappropriate in many locations, such as rural areas where even obscure farm tracks are often tagged highway=residential. We need to (eventually) correct all these into more suitable tagging, so don't be swayed by the preponderance of this "mechanical default".

(07 Mar '14, 17:13) Richard ♦
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question asked: 06 Mar '14, 14:52

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last updated: 09 Mar '14, 18:01

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