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Using open street map is so refreshing after having used google maps for so long, considering the breadth and detail and the kinds of information that can be found in open street map as compared to google maps.

One thing that bothers me (and it is so special for being so singular and small) is that open street maps does not use the state and federal symbols for highways. Why is this not done? The symbol along with the highway number conveys information about the type, intent, condition, etc. of the highway, thus if cartography is to be useful, the symbol is also cartographic. discusses issues related to the use of US highway symbols in open street map, but does not give conclusive reasons.

asked 24 Jan '15, 22:48

QK1GSm652ZX's gravatar image

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edited 09 Apr '15, 00:22

aseerel4c26's gravatar image

aseerel4c26 ♦

It appears I did not read the wiki article thoroughly enough. Here is an issue on somebody's github account that talks about this.

(24 Jan '15, 22:53) QK1GSm652ZX

I get confused about what is considered current best practice for the US. I think the hope is that rendering of route shields would be from the route relations rather than the refs on the ways.

And I think a demonstration of that is at

I think that MapQuest Open uses the refs on the ways:

At any rate, in my opinion you are correct that the default map at does not show shields at it should.

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answered 24 Jan '15, 23:17

n76's gravatar image

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As far as I know, Mapquest uses information derived from the route relation. This is also what is used on the excellent prototype published by ToeBee. And route relations are also what we use to get route numbers in Scout, the nav app by Telenav, (DISCLAIMER I work there).

Route relations make it easier overall to maintain this type of information because by its nature it spans several (many) ways. So if you ask me, relations are the way to go.

(28 Jan '15, 20:59) mvexel

As a general rule in OpenStreetMap, the answer to "why is this not done?" is that "because no-one has done it", which is better expressed in a voluntary project as "because neither you or I have done it". :)

There is a general acceptance that some form of highway shields would be good to have on the US map. However, there are non-trivial technical challenges in showing them.

As yet no-one from the US community, which is (by definition) the community that cares most about this, has stepped up to fix them. That's what will get it fixed - OSM doesn't have any paid employees or other magic cartography fairies who will do it otherwise.

(Personally I suspect that the most effective way to fix this will be to create an entirely new default style when moves to the newer 'vector tile' technology, but that's just a personal view.)

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answered 25 Jan '15, 16:11

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Richard ♦
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"As yet no-one from the US community, which is (by definition) the community that cares most about this, has stepped up to fix them." I don't think this is true. . . Following the talk-us mail list, it is my understanding that all Interstate, US and state routes in the US have been "properly tagged" and many county, city and other special routes as well. The issue is in rendering which has been developed. However the default renderer at has failed to pick up the rendering. I guess if the US group had its own map server for general public use it would be there.

(25 Jan '15, 16:17) n76

I did not mean to incite controversy by bringing up the issue, only that for me, and I suppose many other people having lived their lives in the US, this is something so basic to what you expect from a map that you wouldn't think about it unless it wasn't there. The absence of highway symbols does not meaningfully subtract from the useful content of the map overall, although having them will definitely increase its appeal to more US users.

(26 Jan '15, 05:20) QK1GSm652ZX

This should not be considered a North American issue by definition, every country has it's own shields. The method currently used for rendering shields is so remarkably close and relatively specific to Ordnance Survey that I'm a little amazed it hasn't been a legal liability.

(26 Jan '15, 08:34) Baloo Uriza

stf: Yes, it was the rendering I was referring to. Tagging is only half the story. It needs someone to do the work to the stylesheet (openstreetmap-carto) and database layout. The US community has the greatest interest in this being done but has not, to date, done this.

Paul: Really? Can you show me the Ordnance Survey shields that you're referring to? I drew the original OSM shields (many many years ago) and I can tell you that OS absolutely wasn't in my mind. British Rail station totems from the 1950s might have been!

(26 Jan '15, 10:04) Richard ♦

There is a person who has rendered highway shields on an OSM map. The website is OSM with US shields. Be aware that the website uses a very early version of OSM with old data.

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answered 28 Jan '15, 20:33

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edited 28 Jan '15, 20:37

That was done by @Richard Weait. I think the more current offshoot are the tiles on the OSM-US server, which are shown in the ToeBee demo linked above (

(29 Jan '15, 14:43) neuhausr

Why don't you use ref tag or such?

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answered 25 Jan '15, 11:14

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question asked: 24 Jan '15, 22:48

question was seen: 7,428 times

last updated: 09 Apr '15, 00:22

NOTICE: is no longer in use from 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum