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Legal issues with showing private roads

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#1
Dave Baselt

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Like a lot of topographic maps, my trail maps include private roads. To distinguish them from public roads they're drawn with thinner, greyed-out lines; this style is labeled "private" in the map legend. The private roads are drawn from USGS topographic maps. I've attached an example below.

A property owner whose property appears on one of my maps has said that showing his roads on my map encourages people to hike through his property, and has asked me to remove the roads from the map.

I'm curious if anyone is familiar with the legal issues over showing private roads on publically-available maps. Can someone legally require you to remove a road from a map, even though that road already appears on USGS topographic maps? Are there privacy or liability issues with showing such roads?

Attached File  BATM1sample.jpg   189.97KB   105 downloads

#2
David Medeiros

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When I worked at CSAA we drew the line between private roads and road like private drives which may have signed names. For us the deciding factor was if the road had more than one address associated with it (often checked visually by the mailboxes at it's end). This made it a private road and not just a long private driveway. I do not believe there is any law that directly addresses the issue of mapping private roads. Most private roads with multiple addresses are in multiple existing databases and maps already and as such their alignment is known public information. It is only their access and ownership that is private. This is part of the confusion between the concept of private as closed to public access and private as in secret and unknowable. There is no law that states you can not know about a private road and I can't imagine you could be compelled to remove them.

It's up to you how to handle personal data requests of course. I lean towards open information and responsible cartography. Meaning that I try to make sure the private designation is unambiguous on the map.

You do have to vet a lot of the data you get from USGS topos though. Many of the smaller roads in rural areas are in fact private drives and would normally be removed from a map. Not really from a privacy stand point but because there seems to be a sense that we don't map the inner parcel road structure on most road maps and a drive way is really just a part of the lot, not really a part of the transportation system that gets you to the lot.

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#3
David T

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Like a lot of topographic maps, my trail maps include private roads. To distinguish them from public roads they're drawn with thinner, greyed-out lines; this style is labeled "private" in the map legend. The private roads are drawn from USGS topographic maps. I've attached an example below.

A property owner whose property appears on one of my maps has said that showing his roads on my map encourages people to hike through his property, and has asked me to remove the roads from the map.

I'm curious if anyone is familiar with the legal issues over showing private roads on publically-available maps. Can someone legally require you to remove a road from a map, even though that road already appears on USGS topographic maps? Are there privacy or liability issues with showing such roads?

Attached File  BATM1sample.jpg   189.97KB   105 downloads


I have no idea whether there are any legal requirements to remove the roads. However, I think if the owner has reached out to you, and asked you to remove it, it might not be a bad thing to do so. He brings up some good points (hiking through his property), and it just seems like the 'right' thing to do.

If it were a public road, that would (obviously) be different. But in this case, it's a private road - doesn't seem like it'd be that big of a deal to not have on the map.
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#4
razornole

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Like a lot of topographic maps, my trail maps include private roads. To distinguish them from public roads they're drawn with thinner, greyed-out lines; this style is labeled "private" in the map legend. The private roads are drawn from USGS topographic maps. I've attached an example below.

A property owner whose property appears on one of my maps has said that showing his roads on my map encourages people to hike through his property, and has asked me to remove the roads from the map.

I'm curious if anyone is familiar with the legal issues over showing private roads on publically-available maps. Can someone legally require you to remove a road from a map, even though that road already appears on USGS topographic maps? Are there privacy or liability issues with showing such roads?

Attached File  BATM1sample.jpg   189.97KB   105 downloads


I have no idea whether there are any legal requirements to remove the roads. However, I think if the owner has reached out to you, and asked you to remove it, it might not be a bad thing to do so. He brings up some good points (hiking through his property), and it just seems like the 'right' thing to do.

If it were a public road, that would (obviously) be different. But in this case, it's a private road - doesn't seem like it'd be that big of a deal to not have on the map.



I don't know the law regarding this issue. I recently completed a hiking trail map, and I left all city, county, and private roads off it, i.e. I only mapped state roads and federal roads. My reasoning behind this was that the only thing they added to the map was a distraction.

If this were me, and the map hadn't already been sent to press, then I would remove the road. If it already had been sent to press then I would change it on the next update. I look at it if someone cares enough to track you down and ask to remove something, then they probably would willing to cause future headaches that I would rather avoid.

kru
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#5
Bryan Swindell

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Oftentimes, especially in sparsely populated areas, knowing the locations of private roads (especially turnoffs from public roads) is necessary for navigation, so I am usually compelled to include them on the map. As you have done, I have used symbology to differentiate road types in this regard. I simply make the private roads a dashed line of a muted color and in the legend designate them as "Private Road - No Public Access." I've never had any complaints.

#6
David Medeiros

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I have used symbology to differentiate road types in this regard. Oftentimes, especially in sparsely populated areas, knowing the locations of private roads (especially turnoffs from public roads) is necessary for navigation. I simply make the private roads a dashed line of a muted color and in the legend designate them as "Private Road - No Public Access."


That's the point I would make, and why we included these on our CSAA maps. If the private road is signed leaving it off the map can add confusion while showing it adds a useful navigation aid.

Be aware that many rural residents can be somewhat hyper sensitive to this issue and overstate the impact of showing the road or even lie about the road designation or signage. Anybody here ever been to Bolinas CA? They are an entire community who acts in this manner, going so far as to remove signs from public roads to inhibit visitor traffic. I think it's a thin line we are walking when we start to remove items from a map simply because we are asked to by a local.

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#7
Dave Baselt

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue.

Bryan, I use the same approach as you do (some of the roads I've been asked to remove are in fact labeled "private"), and for the same reason. I once got lost hiking on a dirt road that on the official park map looked like a single, long trail with no intersections. In fact I was supposed to turn off the road onto a singletrack trail (well hidden by foliage), but there was no indication of this turn on the map because the part of the road after the turnoff was private and therefore not shown.

Based on the comments you've all posted, what I think I'll do is remove the affected roads on the next version of the map, but maintain a short "stub" at trail intersections to indicate that a road does in fact intersect the trail at that point. I can add a symbol to indicate that the road continues and isn't a dead end.

#8
Bryan Swindell

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That's the point I would make, and why we included these on our CSAA maps. If the private road is signed leaving it off the map can add confusion while showing it adds a useful navigation aid.

Be aware that many rural residents can be somewhat hyper sensitive to this issue and overstate the impact of showing the road or even lie about the road designation or signage. Anybody here ever been to Bolinas CA? They are an entire community who acts in this manner, going so far as to remove signs from public roads to inhibit visitor traffic. I think it's a thin line we are walking when we start to remove items from a map simply because we are asked to by a local.


Absolutely right, David. This sort of behavior is common practice here in MT. If anyone were to ever complain about one of our maps, we would simply point out that the symbology and the words "No Access" in the legend are there to discourage trespassing. We would also point out that any aerial photograph of the area already reveals the presence of the road. As you mentioned before, 'private' does not equal 'secret.'

#9
M.Denil

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Very true: 'private' does not equal 'secret.'
If it can be seen, on an airphoto or from the ground, it is fair game. It can be labeled as non public, but the owner only owns the road, not knowledge of the road.

When I worked for the Municipality in Halifax, I oversaw the street netwok file. We did NOT maintain private roads. However, some private roads were important trafic links: We even had busses running on private roads. One example was a shopping mall (all private) with a big bus terminal right in the middle: there was access from five or six different points. How was I supposed to build a bus routing application where the bus simply disappeared from the face of the eatrh only to reappear somewhere else?

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#10
Paul H

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I've had complaints about showing private roads, too. When I remind the caller that many emergency responders use our maps to get to the scene of the emergency, they usually change their tune.

#11
Agnar Renolen

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The following statement is found on a Hervey map that I have:

The representation of a road, track or footpath is no evidence of the existence of a right of way

Include such a statement in your map, and you should be safe...




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