Providing for lighting on cycle facilities

Appropriate lighting is important infrastructure to support cycling. Street lighting can increase cycling rates, given darkness has been shown to act as a barrier to people riding bikes. Lighting helps to mitigate the heightened risk from traffic and greater risk to personal security during hours of darkness.

Cycling planning needs to consider the effect of lighting on illuminating a route, creating a feeling of safety for people cycling and contributing to road safety. Illumination expands the number of hours that people can ride their bikes, making the cycling network available beyond solely daylight hours. This is particularly relevant for people riding bikes in winter-time where commute times are in hours of darkness.

The role of lighting for people riding bikes is different to the role of lighting for motor vehicle drivers. The law specifies that bike lights only need to be bright enough to be visible to other traffic. Unlike motorised vehicles, many bike lights are not designed to effectively light the surface ahead or any obstacles/hazards. Cyclists therefore need ambient or public lighting to see where they are going in safety and comfort.

This section provides guidance on how to best provide adequate night-time illumination of cycle facilities. It should also be read in conjunction with the relevant parts of Waka Kotahi M30 Specification and Guidelines for Road Lighting Design and the AS/NSZ 1158 standards for road and public space lighting. Local authorities may also have their own guidance on cycle facility lighting, eg the Christchurch City Council Cycle design guidelines or the Cycling Infrastructure and Street Lighting chapters of the Auckland Transport Design Manual Engineering Design Code (AT, 2021).

  • The benefits of lighting

    Lighting has several purposes for people cycling, and co-benefits for other path users, as well as drivers:

    • lighting the way, making the direction of travel clear and illuminating potential hazards to avoid
    • enabling cyclists to read signs and orient themselves, particularly at intersections/decision points
    • creating a feeling of safety and ensuring people riding bikes (and other path users) feel comfortable
    • enabling people riding bikes to be seen by drivers – thereby improving safety
    • improving the general cycling environment and enhancing amenity
    • ensuring that other path users can be seen when approaching them.

    Well-designed cycle lighting is an amenity that can attract people to a particular route, the same way that quiet, connected routes with landscaping and scenery attract people to them.  

    Street lamps illuminating the vehicular lanes (left hand side of the pole), and lower street lamps for lighting the adjacent cycleway (right hand side of the pole), St Asaph Street Christchurch (photo: Nick Reid)


    Close Back to top
  • Assessing the application of lighting

    With few exceptions, lighting of a dedicated cycling facility is strongly recommended. Cycleway lighting should be specifically assessed with consideration for:

    • specific hazards that may be difficult to identify in low light, including temporary works, bollards, barriers, and uneven road surfaces
    • perceived or reported concerns for personal safety in the area. These may have been identified by the community or in a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design(external link) (CPTED) evaluation.
    • the potential for conflicts with motorised vehicles such as at road and driveway crossings
    • the potential for conflicts with other path users especially pedestrians using shared paths
    • locations where levels change, such as at steps, ramps, overbridges, and underpasses/subways as discussed in Bridging the Gap (Waka Kotahi, 2013).
    • existing street lighting. In some situations, the existing street lighting is adequate for lighting cycle facilities. However, often the lighting is not suitable for riders if it was not originally designed with a cycle route in mind. Adjacent street trees can also obscure direct lighting of a cycling facility.

    Visiting sites during the hours of darkness is imperative as these visits help to establish the cycling environment. Important components to observe include the numbers of people cycling, lighting from other sources (such as shops or illuminated advertising), vehicle speeds, areas of risk, interactions with other path users, and vegetation that may cast shadows.

    Creating a feeling of safety for bike riders requires assessing the levels of lighting, the extent of passive surveillance along a route, and sight lines. The level of passive surveillance depends on the activity along a route, such as the presence of people and vehicles, active frontages and residential properties overlooking a route (‘eyes on the street’).

    There may be some locations where continuous lighting is not required (or be cost-effectively provided), such as low-use rural trails. However, still consider isolated 'flag' lighting at key hazards such as bridges or intersections, or reflective delineators.

    Close Back to top
  • Lighting scheme design

    A cycle route that is well lit is one where the path and surroundings and other users are always visible. Generally, the overall lighting level and absence of glare are important for people cycling. This means:

    Design element


    Shadows and uniformity

    The effect of shadows within a cycling lighting environment must be considered. Shadows within a cycling environment should be minimised, as the high contrast between light and dark makes it harder to see along the length of the path, and harder for eyes to adjust.

    The level of light on the cycle facility at a lamp post needs to not be significantly different from the level of light between two lamp posts (known as uniformity). A difference in lighting level results in reduced visibility of the cycle surface or 'zebra striping' (CROW, 2016).

    Specific cycle facility lighting

    Where the cycle path is separated from the main road carriageway, it may need its own lighting. The lighting designer must ensure that enough light consistently reaches the surface and people using the facility.

    Gap between lamp post and path edge

    A gap greater than 1.0m (0.5 m absolute minimum) should exist between lamp posts (and other structures) and the edge of the cycle facility / path to ensure riders do not crash into posts (Guide to Road Design Part 6A (external link), 2021). This gap is known as ‘shy space.’

    Vertical illuminance

    Visibility to other approaching path users is necessary and hence the need to ensure that the lighting design achieves the required level of vertical surface illumination (ie light landing on the side of an object).

    Horizontal illuminance

    The visibility of a cycle route is not solely based on the quantity of light cast onto the surface. The quantity of light reflected by the ground surface (‘horizontal illuminance’) is also important.

    Minimising light spill

    All lamps and luminaires should be designed to ensure light is directed downwards, to reduce unwanted light spill, improve energy efficiency and minimise light pollution into the night sky. There are competing demands of facilities allowing people to see/be seen whilst also being able to see the natural environment.

    It is important that the lighting does not create a nuisance to adjacent users or neighbouring properties (for example, through unwanted spill light). This can be avoided with directed lighting and lighting shields. Mitigating unwanted light spill minimises the impact on the surrounding environment such as when the cycleway traverses a sensitive ecological area, or a dark sky reserve.

    Crime Prevention

    The principles of 'Crime Prevention through Environmental Design(external link)' (CPTED) must be considered, particularly in terms of shadows, sight lines, placement of shrubs and overall brightness of a route.

    Conflict points

    A higher level of well-directed lighting may be necessary at locations where potential conflicts or hazards are present, including road crossings, uneven surfaces, underpasses and around objects such as bollards and barriers.


    There should be an element of ‘redundancy’, so that if one lamp fails, another will continue to provide at least some light in the affected area, eg by using LED arrays.

    LED versus HPS lamps

    LED bulbs are recommended due to energy efficiency, longer lifetime and better light quality when compared with High Pressure Sodium (HPS) bulbs. Further comparison information on light pollution, safety and health is included in this Waka Kotahi report, NZ Transport Agency (external link) by WSP Opus Research [PDF, 2 MB] (2019).

    Lighting colour

    Lighting colour – trials by WSP Opus Research [PDF, 2 MB] (2019) for Waka Kotahi have supported the idea that visibility is improved by the wider spectrum achieved from ‘white’ light sources like LEDs. Additionally, this New Zealand report(external link) on blue light from the Royal Society of NZ suggests selecting amber or warm light sources over those with higher blue emissions.

    Smart devices

    Increasingly, new road or path lighting installations allow for additional 'smart' devices to also be added to the same luminaire head, including cameras, counters, wi-fi hotspots and environmental sensors. These might provide for improved data collection or user amenity.

     Appropriate shy space between path edge and lamp post, Melbourne (photo: John Lieswyn)

    Clear illumination of this cycle priority crossing, Matai Street East, Christchurch (photo: Nick Reid)

    Close Back to top
  • Grade separated crossings

    Lighting in grade-separated crossings, particularly underpasses, requires specific attention to cyclist and pedestrian safety concerns. It should appear bright while avoiding glare and shadows, which can be done by carefully selecting textures and colours. Transitions at connecting elements (entering or exiting an underpass) will require a specific design to accommodate the user adjusting to the change in lighting levels. The lighting on the approaches should match the lighting in the underpass itself. Lighting designers should consider multiple levels of lighting, providing daytime underpass lighting levels as well as night-time underpass lighting levels. In daylight, the issue is the change when moving from bright sun into a tunnel with low lighting, or out of a tunnel with low lighting. Drastic changes in lighting levels can dazzle as eyes take time to adjust to the change.

    Lighting should operate continuously in many underpasses – with consideration for CPTED. Daylight can be maximised in underpasses beneath divided carriageways, with two shorter tunnels under each direction of traffic, rather than under the full carriageway, separated by daylighting gaps. These act as midway skylights, providing natural lighting halfway. At other locations, lighting tubes can also be used to direct daylight down to an underpass.

    Avoid using widely spaced recessed lamps that create pools of light in amongst dark areas. As underpass lamps will be at a relatively low level, they should be made of polycarbonate or be otherwise resistant to vandalism. Consider installing an emergency lighting system to ensure illumination if the main power supply fails.

    Skylight between the two directions of motorway traffic, Annex Road underpass Christchurch (photo: Glen Koorey)

    Aerial image of the underpass location (source: Canterbury Maps)

    Angled light tubes from the roundabout above used to illuminate the underpass, supported by LED lights down the centre of the tunnel, Harewood Road, Christchurch (photo: John Lieswyn)

    Close Back to top
  • Types of lighting

    The type of lighting depends on the type of cycle facility. Main cycle routes require greater levels of lighting than low-use residential streets (where regular street lighting may suffice) or quieter, less-used cycle routes. There are a wide variety of types of lighting, such as normal overhead lamps, in wall lighting, hand-rail lighting and lighting for temporary projects. Lighting for cycling can have co-benefits for pedestrians. The Pedestrian Network Guidance outlines specific lighting guidelines for pedestrian infrastructure.

    Street lighting illuminating  the cycleway, footpath and adjacent roadway, Domain Terrace, Christchurch (photo: Glen Koorey)

    Normal overhead lighting

    These can have different properties:

    • Traditional overhead lamps of a path/cycleway
    • Solar-powered lighting – becomes more cost effective in locations far from mains power
    • Dimming of lights during times of low occupancy with central management systems
    • Sensor technology where the level of lighting is adjusted to the presence of cycles or other path users. Important to be wary of sensor lights turning on abruptly, to avoid a ‘spotlight effect.’

    A combination of overhead and wall panel lighting on Te Ara a Whiti (The Lightpath), Auckland (photo: Jake Mein)

    In-wall lighting

    Sometimes used as low mounted lights in a wall. Te Ara a Whiti – the Auckland Light path has a great example of in-wall lighting.

    In-wall and handrail lighting used to illuminate the bridge design of a fallen karaka tree, He Ara Kotahi Bridge (source: Palmerston North City Council)

    Handrail lighting

    Handrail lighting is often used to illuminate ramps, or bridges. It can be difficult to meet vertical plane illumination sufficient for face recognition, and hence Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design comfort (CPTED). Because people’s faces are not directly illuminated, there is a reliance on reflection from surfaces. Light coloured pavements may assist but, if too bright, glare can occur.

    Handrail lighting, Te Rāranga bridge, Central Christchurch (photo: Nick Reid)

    Lighting directed at objects

    These can be used to highlight a wall, cycle parking or other objects. Lighting can be placed overhead, on the ground or on walls. The object may be a tree/sculpture/feature or an object/hazard that path users need to avoid.

    Overhead light directed at concrete wall to illuminate the wall, Oxford Terrace, Christchurch (photo: Nick Reid)

    Overhead lighting used to illuminate bike parking, Oxford Terrace, Christchurch (photo: Nick Reid)

    Temporary lighting (for pilot projects)

    These are used on pilot projects at intersections, cycle crossings and courtesy crossings. Refer to The Selection and Use of Non-Permanent Materials for Pilot Projects [PDF, 2 MB] section 3.5 Temporary Lighting. 

    Temporary lights (left to right - overhead pole, concrete base mount (Auckland), cage mount (Tauranga City Council)

    Close Back to top
  • Other light sources and delineation measures

    Additionally, there are other light sources such as in-ground stud lighting and luminescent path granules, but these do not substitute for lighting that illuminates people or paths. Instead, they are a form of delineation.

    Solar stud lighting

    Embedded solar stud lighting, an off-grid option that enables people to align their movement as they move along the path.

    In-ground solar stud lighting, near Bristol, United Kingdom (photos: Glen Koorey)

    Luminescent path granules

    Luminescent path granules/polymers/paint applied to asphalt or concrete. These ‘glow-in-the-dark’ surfaces could act as a ‘invisible handrail’ on cycleways but do need both sunlight (during the day) and a low light environment to be effective. The use of luminescent surfaces with reflectance properties may result in fewer assets required to light the facility. Note that currently luminescent markings are not an approved treatment in New Zealand for road markings, but may be suitable for remote paths with high sun exposure.

    Luminescent edge delineator, and close-up-view of path granules, Tauranga (photos: Wayne Renner)

    Close Back to top
  • Standards and specifications

    Design of lighting is a specialised technical discipline. The standards and specifications cover the average and minimum levels of illumination in the horizontal plane to illuminate the path surface and in the vertical plane to illuminate faces. The standards also control glare to path users and light spill to adjacent areas and upwards to preserve dark skies. The reflective properties of a ground surface is also a lighting issue; reflection can be improved with a light-coloured surface - but caution should be taken to ensure that glare is not an issue under bright sunshine.

    AS/NZS 1158.3.1:2020(external link) is the standard for lighting in pedestrian/cyclist areas or routes and it applies to pedestrian-only areas as well as those with a mix of pedestrians, motor vehicles, and cyclists. The standard also covers the lighting required at cycle/pedestrian crossing islands and traffic-calming measures.

    The table below shows the criteria for various lighting subcategories for:

    • pedestrian and cycle paths, both along road corridors and away from them (PP1 – PP5). PP (pathway) lighting category levels are higher than that of PR (roadway). PP lighting category includes both horizontal and vertical requirements, whereas PR requires only horizontal.
    • roads in local areas, including collector roads, local streets, and common forecourts (PR1 – PR5)
    • public activity areas, including civic squares, outdoor malls, and transport terminals (PA1 – PA3)

    Cycle routes near arterial roads may be better served by referring to the V categories of lighting in AS/NZS 1158 Part 1.

    Table: Lighting PP sub-categories for pedestrian and cycle routes (from Tables 2.1-2.3 of AS/NZS 1158.3.1.) with potential locations where the lighting could be used.

    Selection criteria

    Cyclist / hour (peak period)

    cycle activity

    Fear of crime

    Lighting subcategories

    Potential appropriate location for use




    PP1 / PR1 / PA1

    Route/area with a known high crime risk

    > 500



    PP2 / PR2 / PA2

    Major cycle route with low passive surveillance

    150 – 500



    PP4 / PR4 / PA3


    < 150



    PP5 / PR5 / PA3

    Street with good passive surveillance, low cycle volumes

    Note: the categories of the first column (cyclist / hour) are aligned from the flow categories used for cycleway widths from the Cycling Network Guidance.

    For connecting elements, such as underpasses and bridges, the following (PE) sub-categories are generally appropriate:

    • PE1: Subways, including associated stairs and ramps
    • PE2: Other steps and stairways, ramps, walk/cycle bridges
    • PE3: Ramps and bridges associated with low-use pathways

    Pedestrian/cycle crossing points need more intense lighting than paths to ensure that users are clearly visible to other path users and that approaching drivers can clearly see people crossing. Lighting must comply with AS/NZS 1158.4(external link) Lighting for Roads and Public Spaces, Part 4: Lighting of Pedestrian Crossings. Generally, the relative 'busyness' of the road (in terms of road hierarchy, traffic speed and traffic volumes) will determine whether a PX1, PX2 or PX3 lighting category is appropriate. Meanwhile, categories X1 and X2 are used for pedestrian (zebra) crossings (including dual crossings), with crossing user volumes generally being the differentiating criterion.

    Adequate overhead lighting of the signalised pedestrian/cycle crossing, Deans Avenue. Christchurch (photo: Nick Reid)

    The M30 Specification and Guidelines for Road Lighting Design (Waka Kotahi, 2014) is relevant to roads, cycleways, footpaths, tunnels, underpasses, overpasses and bridges on State Highways, but can also be adopted for use by other Road Controlling Authorities. The document has some guidelines on specific illuminance levels for cycleways, underpasses and overpasses. Design spacing of lamps on walkways and cycleways are also given. For concept design of cycle paths on a principal cycle network (subject to further detailed design later), the specification assumes lantern mounting heights on columns are 8 m tall spaced at 30 m.

    The Christchurch Cycle Design Guidelines(external link) and Auckland Transport’s Street Lighting engineering design code(external link) have information on design approaches to lighting depending on the type of facility: cycle paths, separated cycleways (single directional and bi-directional), neighbourhood greenways, mid-block crossings, bridges, underpasses, and intersections.

    Austroads Guide to Road Design Part 6A:(external link) Paths for Walking and Cycling has information regarding clearances between cyclist envelopes and potential path hazards. The guide has objectives for providing lighting to paths.

    Close Back to top