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Engagement is the practice of actively bringing community or public voices into decisions that affect or interest them.

Consultation is one type of engagement, with a legal definition and statutory obligations for local government. It is not a synonym for engagement (see section on ‘Misconceptions’ in the NZ Transport Agency public engagement guidelines [PDF, 3.1 MB]).

Henceforth ‘engagement’ will be used to denote the full spectrum of activity, including communications (see the NZ Transport Agency public engagement guidelines [PDF, 3.1 MB]).

  • Why engage?

    There are three main purposes for engaging the public and stakeholders on cycle infrastructure projects:

    • enable the project to be delivered, by maintaining sufficient social licence to operate (social licence means sufficient public and political support to see a project through to completion, given its perceived costs)
    • maximise return on investment by refining project scope and designs (see Consult Australia's Valuing better engagement(external link))
    • maximise return on investment by encouraging greater uptake of the infrastructure.

    Maintaining social licence for cycling-related projects requires strong and widespread support from non-cyclists, who see value in the wider benefits of the project beyond those that directly benefit people who bike. This is because identifiable ‘cyclists’ are currently too small a minority of any population to be a project’s main source of public support. General community support for investing in cycling must be gained early in the cycle network development process, before routes are being engaged on, and actively maintained.

    Every cycling infrastructure project must be resilient to ‘bikelash’. Bikelash can be defined as disproportionately intense resistance to a project, which goes beyond the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ (NIMBY) concern commonly experienced by infrastructure projects. Bikelash is an international phenomenon and is most often related to:

    • a sense of loss from changes to road space allocation, especially loss of parking (residential and commercial), plus
    • negative stereotyping of ‘cyclists’, perceived as an identifiable, aggravating minority.

    Combined, these can fuel a belief that the impacts of project are a cost on many for the benefit of a few.

    If the bikelash risk is not properly identified and/or mitigation is insufficiently resourced, loss of community support can jeopardise project delivery and also create a hostile environment for future cycling initiatives.

    A project that can clearly communicate its broadly-appealing benefits, whose engagement refers back to an already established mandate for investing in cycling and has built and maintained local social capital in advance, may draw down on this later in the project to help maintain sufficient support for the project to go ahead.

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  • What is engagement for cycleway projects?

    Effective engagement builds and maintains social licence by following good practice (see the draft NZ Transport Agency public engagement guidelines [PDF, 1020 KB]) but with some unique characteristics. These are about addressing the root causes of bikelash before it occurs, and unlocking the wider public support that is essential for successful delivery and uptake. They include:

    • sound and broadly appealing rationales, tactically communicated with good ‘why we are doing this’ stories and effective imagery – these rationales and their communication must be specific to the project, not relying on historical strategic plans for mandate
    • ‘why’ stories reinforced by associated activities, that elicit support from a wide range of groups and people, for example: promotions and complementary initiatives encouraging people to choose to bike locally – ‘Take public transport and bike to the Festival – discount tickets, special bike parking’ 
    • significant early stage communications and early stage ‘asking’ activities that establish widespread appreciation of the rationales, and widespread support for the project’s concept, for example: getting public input with broad-spectrum questions around mobility, liveability, accessibility and vibrancy of the urban area, which open the space for ideas about investing in sustainable transport (including cycling) as a means to those ends
    • gathering information on how local businesses and residents use their existing local road network
    • doing public engagement ahead of phases at most risk of bikelash, such as scheme and detailed design and construction, and continuing it through those phases
    • following delivery, continued engagement and wider promotion of the infrastructure to encourage people to start using the new facility.
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  • Who to engage

    Cycling projects tend to need engagement with a wider range of groups than equivalently disruptive or costly infrastructure projects. This builds the wider base of support that helps maintain community support and maximise uptake.

    The project’s engagement and communications plan should have strategies for dealing with the following kinds of people throughout the project, to build and maintain social licence:

    • local community (including affected individuals, but deliberately including a wide range of other people unrelated to cycling, including schools, iwi, businesses)
    • advocacy groups (including cycling, but also transport and recreation groups who can help build social licence)
    • elected representatives (councillors, local board members, local MPs)
    • middle and upper management within council (who can drive support from other functional areas of council)
    • thought leaders and influential figures in the community (especially those without a pro-cycling reputation) who can be champions.

    Key decision-makers (such as councillors) must at all times be well-informed and supportive of the project’s engagement strategy and plan, and be well prepared to handle developments (such as a rise in bikelash, or an ad hoc opportunity to promote the project’s rationale). 

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  • Resources for engagement

    A useful rule of thumb is:

    Take the resources (staff time and costs) typically allocated to consultation for a non-cycling infrastructure project of equivalent capital cost and disruption to the cycleway project. The allocation required for a cycling infrastructure project is likely to be at least twice that amount.

    Cycleway project engagement work must be front-loaded in the project timeline. Specialist engagement support is recommended at the early stage for creating the engagement plan and integrating it with the project plan.

    Other essential early stage work will include establishing and developing relationships:

    • with other organisations that will be partners in growing the project’s social licence (eg cycle skills trainers who can work with nearby schools, local polytechnic or high school for students’ graphic design)
    • with key non-cycling influencers and groups in the community (eg local school principals, boards of trustees, large local employers, local politicians)
    • with other parts of council that will be partners in delivering complementary or associated works to the cycling infrastructure (eg teams responsible for urban design, infrastructure works, parking, community events, business groups). 
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  • How to engage

    Every cycling infrastructure project should have a formal engagement and communications plan, which is comprehensively integrated with the project plan and supported by the whole project team.

    The engagement and communications plan will have:

    • clear, agreed statements of why engagement is being done – its purposes and how the plan’s activities will achieve them
    • the broadly appealing key messages and rationales (‘why are we doing this’ story) for the project that maximises broad public support
    • communications messages, images and language which illustrate these key messages, and are adhered to by everyone who speaks with the public, for example, using ‘people who cycle’ not ‘cyclists’
    • different activities for different phases of the project (see What to engage on) which all manifest good-practice engagement (see the draft NZ Transport Agency public engagement guidelines [PDF, 1020 KB])
    • strategies to manage each stakeholder whose approval is essential (councillors, local board members, key landowners), covering the whole project timeline
    • a media management strategy, including relationship development with local press, and proactive good-news stories to build support and counter balance inevitable negative media.
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  • What to engage on

    The following table lists suggestions specific to cycling infrastructure projects, and complements the information given in the draft NZ Transport agency public engagement guidelines [PDF, 1020 KB].

    Table 16: Engaging on cycling infrastructure projects

    Project phase

    Purpose of this engagement

    Message, example techniques and activities

    Likely resources for engagement

    Strategic context for cycleways

    Start: during strategic case/programme business case development.

    To build the mandate for developing a cycle network in your city.

    Identifying and characterising the need for cycling projects in the community.

    Political support at the strategic level.

    How do you want your city to be for our kids? How could we improve how people get around so that vision becomes real?

    Asking the wider community broad questions about what they want in their city regarding mobility, liveability and accessibility.

    Communicate to wider community the broadly appealing benefits of more people cycling.

    Carefully framed questions to encourage future-focused thinking about transport.

    Annual/long term plan engagement.

    Investment logic mapping (ILM) workshop with stakeholders including strong ‘non-cycling’ representation.

    Presentations to politicians about the need for cycling emphasising its contribution to city’s growth and wellbeing.

    General media – priming communications that include positive messages and imagery related to cycling.

    Concept design

    Identifying routes along a priority cycling corridor.

    Identifying overall minimum level of service (including specific target users).

    Start: during programme or indicative business case development.


    Get all key stakeholders (those holding effective veto power, and potential champions) comfortable with project’s concept, and with how they’ll be handled in project.

    Early detection of unidentified issues, and flaws in project’s rationale.

    Prime the wider community with positivity about the rationales behind the project.

    We want to work with you - this is the beginning. Here’s the good outcome, and concepts for achieving it.

    Please help us improve the concepts – what are we missing? How could we achieve it better?

    One-on-one engagement, ‘intimate’ meetings on stakeholders’ turf.

    Begin establishing a transparent cycling advisory group.

    General cycling promotion activities in wider community (eg Ciclovia, ‘skate scoot ride’ events, urban bike training for adults, Bikes in Schools).

    One-on-one conversations with local media representatives.

    Clear ‘why’ story from ILM.

    Pictures of typical target users.

    Conceptual maps focusing on people’s movement.

    Concept drawings (artistic impressions, not design drawings).

    Open minds for feedback and suggestions.

    Events that communicate the rationale of future cycling project (eg ‘It’s better to go by bike in the town centre’). 

    Resources as for stakeholder meetings (above).

    Concept design development

    (Improvements from earlier engagement).

    Identifying route options along a desire line.

    Identifying overall minimum level of service (including specific target users).

    Broad-spectrum community awareness for and support of the project, and widespread feeling of having shaped it.

    Here’s the good outcome, and concepts for achieving it. Are we on track? How can we do it better? What would you like alongside?

    Any way to get maximum number of locals giving concept-level input with maximum visibility, including for feedback, eg project team present at a community event that attracts locals (street fairs, A&P show).

    Clear ‘why’ story.

    Pictures of typical intended users.

    Conceptual maps focusing on people’s movement.

    Concept drawings, artists’ impressions.

    Pictures of ‘add-ons’ – street furniture, art, bus integration, dog parking etc.

    Open minds for feedback. Feedback through multiple channels incl. mainstream media.


    Scheme design

    Selecting preferred route by trading off pros and cons. Transparently communicating why other route options have been discounted.

    Identifying and confirming parameters for non-cycling enhancements to improve social licence  and increase uptake.

    Start: detailed business case development.

    Public and stakeholders see a well-founded, transparent process for making key choices about project, and feel up to date.

    Decisions about project are made with more diverse support.

    This how we’re deciding specifically how to go about achieving our agreed outcome and getting community input. Here’s how to keep up to speed. We’ll ask for more input from you later.

    Working party, advisory group: elected representatives, community leaders, cycle advocates a minority.

    Updates to community in-situ (open houses etc).

    Visible connections to intended users.

    Regular updates on advisory group progress (multiple channels, incl. open houses) with rationales for decisions (tradeoffs, cost benefit assessments etc).

    Consistent connection with ‘why’ story, appealing images of intended users, updated conceptual  pictures.

    Cycle training/promotion with intended users (eg children).


    Detailed design

    Identifying specific changes to road corridor, identifying specific local impacts, identifying specifics of trade-offs or complementary non-cycling works.

    Community stakeholders feel up to date, can give input if they wish, and see how key choices about project are being made.

    Wider public and community are aware of project’s wider contribution and ‘why’ story, and able to express support.

    This how we’re deciding specifically how to go about achieving the good outcome, and what we’ve traded off. How can we achieve the outcome better? What other trade-offs could we do?

    Local, visible engagement – Cycling Advisory Group & seeking local input.

    Updates on advisory group.

    Wider public promotion of cycling/sustainable transport, referring to project.

    As for scheme design phase, plus:

    Street/route walks with advisory group.

    Open houses.

    Mainstream media ads/op-eds with good news stories.

    Public (all-of-city) events promoting cycling, specifically linked to project.



    Neighbours feel treated professionally; wider local community can see connection between disruption and ‘why’ story.

    Wider public and community are aware of project’s wider contribution and rationale.

    Bear with us – we’re building it like we agreed through our good process. We’ll minimise disruption. It’ll be worth the inconvenience.

    Face-to-face time with neighbours next to construction.

    Weekly project updates, daily for neighbours.

    Decision-makers on the ground, championing.

    Visible events humanising construction (eg ‘meet the diggers’ afternoon).

    Regular ‘we are here’ project updates for community.

    Hotline or on-call contact person to troubleshoot for community.

    Mainstream media op-eds with good news stories.

    Mainstream media comms noting disruption, humanising project, reminding of intended users



    Public at large, especially wider local community and local supportive partners, feel happy about project and a sense of ownership. 

    Here’s your new [shared pathway] – you helped us create it, let’s celebrate!

    Maximum visibility, maximum appeal event involving broadest spectrum of local community plus influencers. Draw on partner relationships.

    Extensive pre-event promotion.

    Ciclovia, street party, kids’ bike parade, prizes, celebrities cycling to and at event, etc. 

    Create sense of community’s event, not your organisation’s event.


    People start using what the project’s delivered, in their normal life.

    You can use the [shared pathway] for all kinds of trips…

    Collaborate with local influencers and organisations to have events.

    Excursions (eg shopping rides, bike to the library), on-site bike training, new commuter buddies, bike buses, user feedback mechanisms.

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