Cycle network and route planning takes part within a legal, transport, social and administrative context – and can't take place in isolation from it.

Those planning for cycling need to understand transport and the law affecting it, plus the variety of government roles, policies and strategies at national, regional and local levels.

Urban Cycle Network Masterplan(external link) (Palmerston North)

Regional Land Transport Plan(external link) (Canterbury)

Government Policy Statement on Land Transport(external link) (Ministry of Transport)

The business case approach (BCA) is another key aspect that needs to be considered from the outset given that a level of investment will be required to implement the network over time. The BCA starts at the strategic level and continues through to post implementation.

This section outlines this larger context, and then discusses cycling plans – why we have them, what they should contain, and how they fit with the bigger picture. Cycle network and route planning is only one part, alongside others, of preparing a cycling plan.

  • Cycling trends

    At its most essential level, cycling is a means of transport. Most trips are for utility (practical day-to-day) purposes, while a sizeable minority are for recreation. Forty-eight percent of New Zealand households own one or more bicycles.

    While riding to school has declined over recent decades, recreational cycling has grown steadily, most recently thanks to the construction of mountain bike parks and the New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, network of Great Rides and associated routes. After decades of decline, cycle commuting has also grown in popularity since 2006, particularly in the main urban centres. Between the 2006 and 2013 census, the percentage of the workforce who cycled to work increased from 2.5% to 2.9%.

    Most journeys are short. About two thirds of all vehicle trips are less than six kilometres, which, when conditions are favourable, is an easy cycle ride for most people. The travel range of cycling can be extended through the use of public transport or an electric bicycle. The ability for a bicycle to carry heavy loads can be increased through use of a cargo bike or cycle trailer.

    Cycling can potentially take place from all origins to all destinations, and is not restricted to a small number of routes.

    In recent years, cycling for transport has enjoyed a resurgence in support across the political spectrum. In 2014, the government created the $100 million Urban Cycleways Programme to accelerate the development of urban cycleways. 

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  • Transport and the law

    National context

    Law includes not only acts of Parliament, and delegated legislation but also common law, which is primarily set out in law court judgments.

    Common law includes everyone’s duty to care for their own safety and to avoid causing harm to others. For example, in a crash we need to establish not only who should have given way, but also whether those involved were trying to avoid danger to themselves and others.

    Under common law everyone has the right to travel unimpeded along all public roads, except where legal restrictions have been imposed (for example, prohibiting people walking and cycling on motorways). Road controlling authorities (RCAs) are obliged to safeguard this right for all lawful road users, including cyclists.

    Legislation includes acts of Parliament, as well as rules and regulations made by people or organisations to whom Parliament has delegated this power (for example, the Minister of Transport for Land Transport Rules). A number of acts, including the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA) provide the legal framework for managing and funding land transport activities.

    The main ‘traffic law’ governing the behaviour of road users, including cyclists, when using the road network are found in the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 and Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004, both of which are updated every year or two. In these rules, cyclists are regarded as drivers of vehicles and their obligations are in most respects the same as those of motor vehicles drivers. There are also relevant rules on the use of land under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) in regional and district plans.

    Bylaw powers

    Local authorities and road controlling authorities have power to enact bylaws for areas within their responsibility (see sections 22AB and 22AD of the Land Transport Act 1998). Bylaws can cover activities on the road (for example, one-way traffic and contra-flow cycle movement, speed limits, parking, and restrictions on cyclists’ use of some roadways) and off the road (for example restrictions on cycling within parks and reserves).

    If a bylaw is written to allow for such changes, new cycle paths and lanes etc, may be designated at a later date by addition to that bylaw’s ‘schedule’.

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  • Guidance

    Guidelines do not have the force of law, but are recognised as best practice when adopted by legally responsible bodies, such as RCAs or other government agencies.

    The Design guidance section provides a comprehensive collection of current best practice guidance and guidelines from national (including Austroads) and international sources.

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  • National transport policies

    Every three years the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding(external link) (GPS) sets priorities and the government’s expectations around expenditure levels from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF). The GPS sets a range of funding for particular activities. The NZ Transport Agency then determines which projects receive funding and to what level within these overall ranges.

    Road to Zero is the government’s road safety strategy for 2020-2030. It provides the outline of how we will approach the road safety challenges of the next decade and hold ourselves to account to save lives and meaningfully reduce trauma. Our road system is a safe one when it protects people from serous trauma and has the potential to actually improve the lifestyles of people in New Zealand. It’s also reducing road trauma and creating a safe environment that enables people to feel more connected with their communities, and choosing to walk, scoot and cycle for short journeys such as to school or to the shops. 

    Safer speeds mean reduced emissions and traffic noise, and walking and cycling, and more attractive and people-friendly urban environments improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.

    In 2014 the Transport Agency-appointed Cycling Safety Panel published a report and recommendations in Safer journeys for people who cycle’. The Transport Agency then went on to produce Making cycling safer and more attractive – the NZ Transport Agency’s cycling safety action plan [PDF, 418 KB].

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  • Regional land transport plans

    Each region’s regional transport committee is required to develop a RLTP every six years. RLTPs list the activities that regions want to include in the National Land Transport Programme and may include a chapter or plan for cycling, and a programme of works for projects of regional significance for the next 10 years.

    Although regional transport committees do not directly manage roads, each region must take RLTPs into account. Projects included in the RLTP may then qualify for funding from the NLTF.

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  • Road controlling authorities

    Road Controlling Authorities (RCAs) have direct responsibility for the road system. They usually own the roads and public paths, and (usually through contractors) construct, improve and maintain them. RCAs have powers to regulate road users’ behaviour, for example by banning parking, creating one-way streets and installing traffic signals. They may also conduct a travel behaviour change programme to encourage a particular transport mode or behaviour.

    RCAs include city and district councils, Auckland Transport (a council-controlled organisation) and the Transport Agency (for state highways).

    The Transport Agency also co-funds investment in local roads and behaviour change projects. 

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  • Other local council responsibilities

    Local councils have other roles, besides that of an RCA, that affect transport and cycling.

    Resource Management Act 1991

    Under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), councils prepare district plans and regional plans. Both types of plan include rules regulating the environmental effects of activities such as the construction, operation and maintenance of roads and cycleways.

    In 2015, the NZ Transport Agency was granted requiring authority status (under the RMA) with regard to construction of standalone cycleways (extending their existing powers to require land (ie designate) be put aside for highway projects to also cover cycleways and shared paths).

    Reserves Act 1977

    Under the Reserves Act 1977, local councils are responsible for managing various types of reserve land.

    Off-road cycle paths are often located on recreation or scenic reserves. Councils may allow for these in their relevant reserve management plans. 

    Local Government Act 2002

    The main act governing council activities is the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA 2002); however councils’ powers in respect of roads are contained in the Local Government Act 1974 (LGA 1974), including the power to declare a cycle track (ie a cycle path or shared path). Under the LGA 2002, councils prepare and consult on annual plans setting out proposed spending during the coming year, and long term plans outlining spending over the coming decade. The public consultation process for these plans may be used to promote greater spending on provision for cycling.

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  • Integrated transport planning

    Integrated transport planning aims to embrace a range of perspectives traditionally covered separately, including:

    • a variety of transport modes (eg car, bus, rail, cycling and walking)
    • the relationships between transport planning, land use planning and investment
    • the contribution transport makes to wider economic, social, health and environmental objectives.

    The One Network Framework (ONF) is a classification framework that replaced the One Network Road Classification (ONRC) in 2021. The ONF helps establish transport network function, performance measures, operating gaps and potential interventions for each road and street type.​

    The One Network Framework (ONF) recognises that streets not only keep people and goods moving, but they’re also places for people to live, work and enjoy. The ONF is designed to contribute to improving road safety and build more vibrant and liveable communities. ​

    ONF brings together network-wide and local considerations. At its heart, the ONF organises transport links by their place and movement roles into road and street types.​

    ONF sets out to establish the ‘current’ state and the desired ‘future’ state . Whilst the ONF current has been mapped the future state is the next step in the process (likely to be undertaken in 2023). This will reference the use of the ‘Network Operating Framework’ (NOF) in urban areas. NOFs can assist with establishing and understanding modal relationships, modal networks and modal trade-offs and what form the future transport network needs to take in order to reflect and deliver strategy.

    ONF: Current network classification

    ONF: Future network planning

    Network Operations Planning Framework (Austroads, AP-R338-09)(external link)

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  • Cycling strategic plans

    This section the elements that should be included in a cycling strategic plan (note other terms may be used such as ‘bike plan’ and ‘cycling strategy’).

    Authorship and participation

    A local authority or regional council usually authors a cycling strategy. However, other appropriate agencies should be closely involved and agree to any content that they are responsible for implementing. Other agencies include the NZ Transport Agency, local councils (regional/city/district), and the New Zealand Police. Local cycling advocacy group(s), other road user groups, employers and cycle retailers will also need to be consulted.

    Cycling policy objectives

    Brief statements setting out, in general terms, what is intended to be achieved.


    Targets against which achievement is measured could include:

    • cycle use and modal share
    • cyclist injuries and hospitalisations
    • satisfaction levels regarding cycle facilities
    • cycle facilities’ condition
    • cycle network implementation
    • level of service (LOS) improvements
    • the proportion of school pupils trained to basic competence each year
    • perceptions on cycle safety conditions
    • awareness among general population/motorists regarding people on bikes.


    These will include both engineering and non-engineering actions. They will tend to be in generalised terms within the cycling strategic plans, and where necessary supplemented by other documents specifying the requirements. Typical elements include:

    • cycle route network planning and implementation (the subject of this guide)
    • neighbourhood accessibility plans and school and workplace travel plans and other wrap-around activities such as cycling encouragement activities, special events, etc.
    • educating cyclists in road rules, bicycle maintenance, safety precautions and practical skills in relation to other traffic
    • educating motorists and pedestrians on the cyclists’ needs and likely behaviour
    • educating cyclists and pedestrians on safe path sharing
    • enforcing correct and appropriate behaviour by motorists and cyclists
    • measures to overcome perceived negative aspects of cycling
    • measures that integrate cycling with travel behaviour change programmes
    • crash reduction studies focusing on cycle crash patterns
    • measures to integrate cycling with public transport, such as secure parking at stations and cycle carriage on buses
    • a cycle parking strategy and implementation programme (covering different types of parking demand)
    • recommended actions by agencies that are not road controlling authorities (RCAs) – for example, New Zealand Police, regional council, schools, employers – sometimes with funding assistance
    • an outline of the sources and roles of funding for implementation of the cycling strategic plan
    • incorporating the network and any associated rules into the district plan
    • a programme of signs for cycling facilities.

    Cycling data

    The data needed to plan and implement the cycling strategic plan, including cycling usage and crash data.

    Liaison channels

    An outline of the formal channels and processes (for example, cycling advisory group) by which politicians, officials (both within the RCA and between it and other governmental bodies) and cycling advocacy groups are consulted and involved in progressing the cycling strategic plan.

    Cycle route network prioritisation criteria

    A statement of how priorities are set for implementing cycling infrastructure projects.

    Cycle network plan

    A map of the proposed network.

    The timeframe and proposed investment by which the entire cycle route network will be implemented. This should include a general staged programme and description of the geographical areas and particular needs or problems that will be tackled.

    Short-term cycling route network implementation programme

    A description of projects and detailed costings for the next three years of the cycle route network implementation programme. Costings should preferably be based on the outcome of formal project feasibility studies. On first adoption of a cycling strategic plan, the outcomes of such studies may not be available; in this case these elements should be incorporated in the cycling strategic plan at its first review.

    Review period

    The term after which the cycling strategic plan will be reviewed. This will often be three years, but should align with the review periods and timings of other relevant RCA documents (such as long-term plans).

    Monitoring indicators

    Progress towards targets as measured by appropriate indicators should be included in an annual report. (For a discussion on these see Monitoring and reporting.) In addition to these measures, the reach and effectiveness of cycling promotions and the number of school students that pass the basic competence road test following school cycle education could be monitored.

    For more information

    A number of documents have been written about cycling strategies.  For more information see:

    • New Zealand walking and cycling strategies – best practice (Macbeth, Boulter and Ryan, 2005)
    • New Zealand walking and cycling strategy stocktake (ViaStrada, 2008)
    • Walking and cycling strategy guidelines (Ryan, 2008) 
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  • Other plans and strategies

    Neighbourhood accessibility planning is another tool available. NAP projects aim to give safe access to all ages of pedestrians and cyclists in neighbourhood areas. The Transport Agency provides more information on neighbourhood accessibility planning for local authorities.

    Actions to promote cycling are implied in other plans and strategies as well, such as those covering climate change, energy efficiency, urban design and form, and health. Non-transport agencies such as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), Sport New Zealand, Regional Public Health, and the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) have been active in cycling-related issues in the past. NGOs such as Cycling New Zealand, Cycling Action Network (formerly Cycling Advocates’ Network), Bikes in Schools, the Sustainable Business Network and other key stakeholders often team up with non-transport agencies to provide expertise and/or networks necessary to ensure the success of a cycling-related project.

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  • Cycling strategic context

    Typically, the strategic elements of cycling plans, policies and strategies aim to increase the number of cycling trips while reducing cycling related injuries (particularly fatal and serious injuries involving motor vehicles). This objective appears to be realistic as many cities in Europe and the United States have achieved it.

    Improving perceived safety is an essential part of increasing cycling numbers, and may lead to a safety-in-numbers effect which results in reduced crash rates.

    Reducing traffic volumes and speeds on key cycling routes will lead to real safety benefits. Highly visible and attractive separated cycling facilities may do more to generate improvements in perceived safety (and growth in cycling). However, as separated cycling facilities will only ever cover a small percentage of a comprehensive cycle network, cycling plans, policies and strategies need the support of general transport plans, policies and strategies.

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  • The business case approach

    While cycling and walking strategic plans have become somewhat less significant over recent years, the business case approach (BCA) has become increasingly important in the development of successful cycling programmes and individual projects. Generally the process for development of cycling network and route planning should align with the process and principles of the BCA.

    The Transport Agency (and other RCAs) uses a BCA as the basis for activity and programme development and subsequent investments. The BCA supports planning and investing for outcomes, ensures early collaboration between stakeholders and development of a robust, evidence-based investment case.

    The BCA is a principles-based approach that clearly links strategy to outcomes, and defines problems and their consequences thoroughly before solutions are considered. This principles-based approach ensures a shared view of problems and benefits early in the transport planning process without requiring that the work be done in a particular way.

    A key aspect of the BCA is that a case for investment is built progressively – starting with a strategic case, a programme business case, an indicative business case, and finally a detailed business case – with decision points along the way that determine whether the investment is worthwhile in relation to the desired outcome. At every step of the process there’s a strong connection between strategy and outcomes.

    The Highways Information Portal(external link) gives more information about the BCA.

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