Cycle networks are made up of interconnected routes and facilities. This section describes the key concepts involved in identifying where these cycle routes should be located and discusses the characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of the types of locations that may be used.

The planning of cycle networks needs to involve a range of disciplines so that the many elements that make up the built environment and the community's specific needs are considered.  This can include planners, engineers, urban designers, landscape architects, educators, health professionals, law enforcement officers and others.

Urban design is a critical aspect to consider because it is about making connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric. This perspective can contribute to network development.  The NZ Transport Agency’s urban design guidelines seek to improve the understanding of what good urban design means in the context of a transport project.

  • Key concepts in planning cycle networks

    There are several inter-related key concepts that should be considered when planning a cycle network:

    Setting a target audience

    The ‘cyclist target audience’, as discussed in People who cycle, is the group of people the cycling network (or a particular route) is intended to cater for. 

    A common goal for a cycle network is to significantly increase the number of people choosing to cycle.  The majority of people are concerned about safety and lack the confidence to cycle without separation from motor vehicles unless vehicle speeds and volumes are suitably low.  Thus, if the planning intention is to make cycling an attractive choice for most people, it makes sense to target a broad audience including less-confident cyclists.  However, in some cases, it may be appropriate to target a smaller audience – for example people who are confident cycling without physical separation from general traffic, or only a subset of those identified as less-confident. 

    There is also the possibility of adopting a ‘dual network approach’ whereby two target audiences are catered for within the same network.  For example this could involve designating particular routes suitable for the ‘enthused and confident’ and other routes for the ‘interested but concerned’. In some locations, it may be possible to provide facilities that adequately cater for both groups, or have two different forms of provision (e.g. cycle lanes and shared paths) within the same corridor.

    Note that different treatments are not necessarily mutually exclusive – since realistic target audience concepts are based on a spectrum and it may be possible to find one provision that overlaps different groups or caters for multiple groups. However, the broader the desired target audience, the more difficult it can be to find a treatment that suitably provides for the needs of those at each extreme of this audience.

    In terms of New Zealand experience with the target audience approach, Christchurch City Council decided to develop a network where most routes are aimed at providing for the interested but concerned target audience, as per Geller's (2009) classification.  This audience was chosen because of its potential to maximise the number of people choosing to cycle.

    Network scale and coverage – every street a cycling street

    Once the target audience has been established, it is necessary to determine how these people can cycle between their origins and destinations with a desired level of service. It may be useful to provide specific cycling routes that cater for high volumes of cyclists (as discussed in the next section), however it is also important to remember that cyclists require access to and from these routes. The combinations of  origins and destinations are as complex for cycling trips as for trips made by motor vehicle, and therefore every street within an urban road network should be suitable for cycling, or an off-road alternative provided that gives access to all necessary locations. This is what is meant by the principle ‘every street is a cycle street’ (Geelong Bikeplan Committee 1977); this principle should be applied to all network planning approaches. 

    Every street being a cycle street does not entail that all streets will require specific cycle facilities. Many roads may not require additional treatment, or can be treated to be made more ‘cycle-friendly’ without requiring specific facilities for cycling (eg by introducing lower speed limits and/or traffic calming). UK guidance in particular sometimes refers to such provisions as ‘invisible infrastructure’ because they improve provision for cycling without being obviously for cycling (Cycling England, 2008; Koorey 2013). 

    In some cases, it may be necessary to adapt the existing environment (within or outside of the transport network) to accommodate facilities that are suitable for the target audience. Busier and faster routes require a level of separation from traffic appropriate to the situation. Retrofitting roads to accommodate facilities for cycling involves many challenges and may require compromises to be made with respect to priorities of other road users. Therefore, the route and facility selection process will often require several iterations before achieving a fit-for-purpose solution that best meets the needs of all affected parties.

    Alternatives to the road network can provide extra connections, more direct routes or higher levels of service.  All three benefits can be achieved by routes that provide extra connections across obstacles like rivers, gullies, motorways and railway lines.  

    Directness and connectivity are important attributes of a cycle network, so that cyclists do not have to detour too far to access a route with an appropriate level of service.  A cyclist travels about 300 metres in a minute and so this is the scale or spacing at which the connectivity of primary cycle provision should be considered. This contrasts with pedestrian networks, which are planned at a scale of about 100 metres and motor traffic routes at about 1 km per minute.

    Hierarchy within the cycle network

    As for all other transport networks, a cycle network will consist of certain components (ie sections of routes) that cater for higher volumes than others. A hierarchy may be assigned to routes of a cycle network based on user volumes, trip length, or user type. Principal cycle routes can be established to provide a higher level of service for the routes with the highest demand (similar to arterial roads) and secondary or connector routes may connect to these principal routes to improve connectivity between key origins and destinations. 

    Each user on the cycle network has a specific desired origin and destination and a preferred route between the two. High demand for a particular component on the network occurs wherever the preferred cycling routes of many users coincide; this can inform the definition of the network’s key cycling routes. The heaviest use will be close to the central business district or other key activity generators. Routes with the most users deserve to have the best level of service for cycling. However, they are most often located where there is also a high demand for motor traffic and parking, and subsequently the existing level of service for cycling is poor. The Transport Agency’s investment criteria give priority to investments on key routes in urban areas.   

    Note that hierarchies for general transport networks aim to provide efficient corridors of through movement for most traffic in a way that it bypasses neighbourhoods, where high volumes of traffic would result in unpleasant and unsafe conditions for people.  This is not the case for a cycling network hierarchy, as cyclists do not have the same negative effects on neighbourhoods as motor vehicles do and providing for neighbourhood cycling may be a goal of the cycling network. For example, a local road for motorised traffic could therefore be an arterial corridor in the cycling network.

    Note that, if the principle of ‘every street is a cycle street’ is truly adhered to, all streets and intersections will provide quality cycling conditions and it will not be necessary to define a hierarchy of routes within a cycle network. In practice, however, it is generally useful to have defined routes, at least in the short-term to inform prioritisation of treatments, or as a way of concentrating longer-distance trips efficiently.    

    The image above shows a section of the Auckland Cycle Network, which has designated a hierarchy of: cycle metros (the principal routes), cycle feeders and cycle connectors. Those who are familiar with the Auckland road network may note that the cycle metros generally follow the principal roads; while this is the case in this plan cycle route hierarchies in other locations need not necessarily align with the road hierarchy. For example, a principal cycling route may well be situated along a local road.

    Hierarchies can be used to assign implementation priorities (so that routes higher in the hierarchy are implemented first where possible) and can be linked to design standards (so that more important routes provide a better LOS).

    Degree of separation

    A fundamental issue in cycle planning is the degree to which cycle facilities will be segregated from motor traffic. There are several degrees of separation, ranging from paths that are completely isolated from the road to cycle lanes that dedicate space for cycling on-road without any physical barrier. Alternatively, cyclists may share the road space with general traffic. Cycle route components between intersections has more information about the different levels of separation and corresponding facility types for locations between intersections. Intersection and crossing treatments are discussed in Cycle route intersection and crossing treatments; note that even fully segregated path networks require road crossings, in which case methods of temporally separating cyclists from motor vehicles may be explored.

    While primary cycle networks may be based on one level of separation, most cycle networks contain a mixture of different facility types, with different degrees of separation from motor traffic, depending on the traffic environment and physical constraints or opportunities.

    It is only possible to consider a primary cycle network that is fully segregated from the road network when planning new suburbs and townships. If a fully segregated cycle network could allow people complete access from their origins to their destinations, it might not be necessary to apply the principle of ‘every street is a cycling street’ to the road network. While segregation is possible on parts of a network it is not practicable across a whole network. 

    The aim of segregated networks is to provide pleasant, off-road cycle paths free of conflict from motorised traffic that serve all areas. Houten, a satellite town of Utrecht in The Netherlands, is a good example of a network that provides a mixture of segregation and mixed traffic (see photo above).  For travel between Houten’s 16 neighbourhoods, motor vehicle access is restricted to a fast circumferential ring road, and segregated facilities that are much more direct are provided for cycling and walking. Within neighbourhoods, cyclists and motorists share the use of slow-speed (30 km/h) streets.  As a result, 44% of trips less than 7.5 km long are made by bicycle and 23 percent by walking. The traffic crash risk is half that of comparable towns. Nearly all school children walk or bike to school.

    Land use in existing towns makes it impractical to develop a fully off-road path network, so principal cycle networks are based around the established network of (mostly arterial) roads. There remains the question of to what degree should cyclists and motor traffic be separated on these routes. 

    Many factors influence whether roads or paths will best suit cyclists’ needs. For example:

    • the needs and preferences of the intended target audience, especially with respect to perceived safety
    • the ability to accommodate the appropriate facility type (see Cycle route components between intersections) within the existing context of road system, natural surroundings and built environment.

    Relative advantages of roads and paths, along with more discussion on the typical locations for these two categories are presented below.

    Close Back to top
  • Road-based route locations

    Roads are designed to accommodate traffic and are therefore direct, convenient and service all origins and destinations. Therefore, the existing road alignment may serve people on bikes better than a less direct path network. Roads also have established intersection controls and high levels of surveillance and therefore personal security.

    The road network can be broadly classified by several different types, according to the different implications they have on the provision for cycling:

    Road based cycle routes should be considered against the One Network Framework street category for the future state. The future state for the ONF street category should be used in conjunction with the guidance on the broad road types listed here as this will provide information on the desired state and the look and feel from a form perspective.

    One Network Framework

    State highways

    State highways are a special class of arterial road of national importance. They are managed by the Transport Agency and include some roads classified as motorways, expressways, urban arterial roads and rural highways.

    State highways form the main spine of the national road network. They are used by all road users, particularly heavy transport vehicles, and often carry high volumes of traffic.

    Urban state highways are often an important part of the cycle network, and in many remote parts of the country, the state highway may be the only road connection for a considerable distance and therefore the only option for the cycle network. Cycle routes on roads that are not state highways will often have to cross state highways. Thus it is important that cycle provision on and across state highways is integrated and consistent with that on connecting or nearby roads. This requires co-ordination between the Transport Agency and other road controlling authorities. The Transport Agency should be involved at an early stage in planning any networks that include state highways.

    The Government Roading Powers Act 1989, permits cycling only on those parts of motorways that have been approved by the Transport Agency for cycling. The Transport Agency only approves cycling on separated paths within the motorway corridor.

    Urban arterial roads


    Arterial roads are the main roads in an area. Their main function is to provide for through-traffic rather than access to adjoining properties, but many important destinations are found along them.

    Minor arterial roads, with lower traffic volumes and speeds, are typically single lane each way and can usually be adapted to provide for cyclists of basic competence both between intersections (called mid-block) and at intersections.

    Major arterial roads are busier and faster, and typically have multiple lanes. They are not appropriate for cyclists of basic competence unless they have more effective separation and facilities to turn right, such as hook turns.


    Arterial roads will be used by many cyclists and will need cycle provision aimed as far as possible at cyclists with basic competence.

    Alternative routes merely supplement the arterial routes and rarely eliminate the need for cycle provision on the latter.

    Wherever possible, arterial roads should be planned with cycle facilities from the outset – or retrofitted to bring them up to best-practice standard.

    Urban backstreets


    Many cyclists undertaking inter-suburban trips prefer quiet routes, especially if they are not confident mixing with busy traffic. Local or collector road routes can provide this as long as they form a coherent pattern. Most commuter cyclists will use them only if they are as convenient as the most direct route.


    Use backstreet routes where they are safer and more attractive or convenient than the parallel arterials.

    Use backstreet routes as supplementary routes to give a choice for those who prefer them.

    Pay careful attention to intersections between backstreets and arterial roads. Traffic signals may be necessary.

    Consider traffic calming these routes.

    Signpost backstreet routes well, especially at turns and where formal cycle facilities are not present. Supporting material, such as brochures, maps and online information can also be useful to ensure people know about these routes.

    Rural arterial roads

    In New Zealand’s rural areas, cyclists rarely have any alternative but to use the same road system as motorised traffic. State highways are often the only suitable routes between settlements.

    Because this traffic is fast, a high proportion of rural cyclist crashes involve deaths or serious injuries. Cyclists particularly benefit from a sealed road shoulder of reasonable width (see Sealed shoulders for more information). Separate paths have even greater safety benefits on rural roads and are more attractive to riders, so their feasibility should always be considered. Narrow rural bridges are a particular hazard as there is often limited or no space for a shoulder and cyclists are required to mix with high-speed motor traffic.


    Consider the linkages in rural areas – where rural arterial roads are the best (or only) alternative for cycling trips, provide the most suitable facilities possible.

    The New Zealand cycle trail design guide(external link) offers useful guidance on rural roads in particular.

    Rural secondary roads

    Rural secondary roads can provide a coherent route and be an excellent cycling alternative to more heavily trafficked rural arterials or state highways.

    They can also offer a better cycling experience than major roads, particularly for touring cyclists. However, typically they don’t have any shoulders and less generous sight distances, thus increasing the chances of evasive manoeuvres.

    Even unsealed secondary rural roads may be adequate, as in some cases cyclists prefer them to adjacent sealed roads with heavy traffic.


    Consider the linkages in rural areas – where rural secondary roads are the best (or only) alternative for cycling trips, provide the most suitable facilities possible.

    The New Zealand cycle trail design guide(external link) offers useful guidance on rural roads in particular.

    Close Back to top
  • Route locations separate from roads

    Between intersections, isolated paths are generally advantageous over roads in that they have no motor traffic and therefore lower speed differentials between users and lower levels of stress. Being separated from the road network means the path environment is generally more attractive. Paths may provide extra links that give advantages to cycling over motor traffic.

    Paths include:

    Urban off-road paths



    These are paths totally separated from roads, usually through parks and reserves which themselves may be specific cycling destinations. Ideally, these cycling routes need to be several kilometres long to provide a meaningful cycling experience. Alternatively, important links can be established through reserves and parks, which enhance the directness or coherence of a backstreet cycle route.

    Coordination of council departments is essential when parks and reserves are managed by a different unit than roading, to ensure consistency of standards and legibility of routes.


    Urban off-road paths are especially recommended where they provide a direct, safe and personally secure alternative to an intimidating arterial road. They should be well-lit and kept free of debris and vegetation overgrowth.

    Use them where they can provide quality alternatives to the main cycle route. Pay careful attention to intersections between paths and roads. Traffic signals may be necessary.

    These paths need to be clearly signposted, or only knowledgeable local cyclists will be able to find their way.

    Pay attention to design quality and the LOS to both cyclists and walkers.

    While a sealed surface is usually preferable, a smooth gravel surface may be acceptable for those riding a bicycle with fatter tyres if the route is particularly attractive or direct.

    Operating railways


    Some very useful cycle routes can be developed alongside operating railways.

    Rail trails


    Rail trails may be created on disused railways, which are mainly found in rural areas and provide important opportunities for leisure and touring cyclists.The Otago Central Rail Trail, the Hauraki Rail Trail and the Little River Trail are examples. Those in urban areas, such as the Nelson–Brightwater Railway Reserve, can cater for everyday utility and recreation trips by cyclists and pedestrians.

    In a worldwide trend over the past two decades, old railway reservations have been secured for recreation or tourism by cyclists and others. Developments like these require specialist expertise, and specific organisations (such as Sustrans in the United Kingdom and Rails to Trails in the United States of America and Australia) have often been established for this purpose.

    Ideally, rural routes provide a cycling experience lasting at least half a day. Their potential is enhanced by accommodation at regular intervals, interpretive panels, art or structural innovations that act as tourist attractions, practical facilities such as toilets, rest areas and water, servicing opportunities or arrangements, and transport assistance at principal connection points.


    Pursue opportunities to introduce cycle facilities on disused railway corridors wherever possible.



    Routes adjacent to watercourses are often picturesque, relatively flat and therefore well used as recreational cycling routes, particularly in urban areas.

    If they provide access to central business districts, they are also popular commuter routes. In this case, care should be taken to avoid meandering, indirect paths. They tend to also attract pedestrians, so conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists need to be considered.


    Consider facilities alongside watercourses as part of the cycle network.



    Paths along the coastal foreshores of cities and next to lakes and harbours are often popular for leisure cycling and can offer unsurpassed riding experiences.

    Generally, foreshore paths are located to provide attractive views for cyclists.


    Consider facilities alongside foreshores as part of the cycle network.

    Close Back to top
  • Other locations

    Other locations that may accommodate cycling routes include:

    • undeveloped transport corridors
    • dedicated bus lanes or corridors
    • water and sewerage easements
    • power-line corridors
    • conservation land tracks
    • redundant road formations.
    Close Back to top
  • Reducing severance

    Features such as rivers, railway lines, motorways, airports or large developments can sever a cycle network and result in indirect routes for cycling with high delays. Small elements such as bridges and tunnels can be introduced to the cycle network to vastly improve its connectivity. In some cases, these elements may also offer an advantage to people cycling by providing them with a shorter trajectory than that available to motor vehicle users. The city of Odense, Denmark, has over 100 cycle-only bridges. More information on the aspects to consider regarding grade separation can be found in Cycle route intersection and crossing treatments.

    Close Back to top
  • Integration with public transport

    Integrating cycling with public transport makes it more possible to choose cycling for at least part of a trip by extending travel range and flexibility. For cycling to be integrated with public transport, it is necessary to have physical access by bike to the public transport terminals and means of transporting a cycle on the public transport service, or at least facilities to store it at the terminal. Buses, trains, ferries, cable cars and aeroplanes could be considered part of the cycle network, and links to public transport should be recognised in the cycle network plan.

    Integration with public transport can be critical to existing cyclists and instrumental in people’s decisions to take up cycling:

    • to ensure the viability of longer trips, especially for cycle tourists and commuters
    • in hilly terrain
    • when potentially poor weather may deter people from making a trip by cycle
    • as an alternative option when faced with unforeseen events, changes in weather, mechanical difficulty or fatigue
    • where there are poor, hazardous or non-existent road options
    • where cycling is prohibited, for example at some road tunnels or bridges
    • as part of a recreational experience (enabling users to access a cycling facility using public transport).

    Integration of cycling and public transport can also benefit the public transport system as the patronage catchment area can increase when people are able to cycle between the bus stop, train station or ferry terminal and their origin or destination, rather than having to walk. The potential for multi-mode travel involving cycling is demonstrated in The Netherlands, where 35% of train travellers cycle to the station (MTPW and WM, 1992).

    The viability of such links depends on appropriate:

    • cycle carriage on the public transport service
    • cycle access at each end of the journey
    • cycle storage in transit (short-term and long-term)
    • cycle parking at each end of a journey if storage in transit is not possible, or where a key destination is adjacent to a transport interchange
    • transit or storage costs.

    Many cities in New Zealand already provide for bicycle carriage on buses. Analysis indicates benefits are considerable and outweigh the costs of providing bike racks for buses. In NZ Transport Agency research report 418, Ensor et al (2010) forecasted that the benefits of integrating cycle facilities with public transport would outweigh the costs for all six significant urban study areas. The forecasting of usage and the economic case for integration of cycling facilities is detailed in Transport Agency research report 537 . This report also suggests that about half of the time when a bicycle is carried on a public transport service, the cyclist would otherwise have been in a car.

    Close Back to top