Plan Multi-level governance

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Multi-level governance

Multi-level governance refers to the continuum of decentral versus central decision making. Cycle highways normally extend the boundaries of individual local authorities. Therefore, multiple levels of governments, either intra- or intergovernmental or both, are often involved. Below, we discuss the ways in which such multi-level governance with regard to the development and implementation of cycle highways can be organised.

Regional governance models

The key question here concerns the relative influence of various levels of decision making on the development and implementation of cycle highways. Is the process strongly centralised at the federal or provincial level or is it rather decentralised awarding more responsibilities and discretion to individual local authorities? In this regard two types of regional governance can be distinguished: governance from the bottom-up and from the top-down. In the top-down model it is the federal or provincial authority that takes prime responsibility for the development and implementation of cycle highways. In the bottom-down model, individual local authorities have more discretion in both the planning and construction process.

Cooperation among local authorities will vary in the amount of local autonomy that individual authorities enjoy. The highest level of autonomy is tangible when local authorities act and behave in individual, more or less ‘insular’ ways. Local authorities will be restricted to a certain degree when an (project-based) inter-jurisdictional organisation is formed in which local authorities (voluntary) cooperate to pursue any strategies about which they agree. Finally, a new regional or metropolitan government unit can be formed that shifts administration tasks to a regional level, transferring autonomy away from local authorities.


This section addresses successful strategies to foster collaboration between individual local authorities (municipalities) and between these local authorities and higher levels of government such as federal or provincial authorities.

Involvement of a professional neutral

It is beneficial to have a knowledgeable facilitator who has a certain level of expertise about the design of bicycle highways, but also has mediating and consensus-building skills. Such a facilitator would ideally be employed by these organisations. In cases where provinces or states are responsible for planning and construction, they might appoint someone from their organisations. It is important that this facilitator is trusted by all stakeholders and that he or she can act as a professional neutral. The facilitator may mediate discussions by introducing technical knowledge, but may also help to build trust between local stakeholders. In addition, the facilitator may have a role in balancing interests between different local authorities and prevent some (larger) authorities from the case municipalities have delegated responsibilities to regional cooperation associations, dominating others.

Secure commitment of local authorities in early stages

Even in contexts where local authorities are not responsible for financing or planning of a proposed bicycle highway, it is sensible to involve them in early stages of project design and route choice. This can, for example, be done by requesting a letter of intent or a memorandum of understanding, which needs to be signed by someone higher up in the bureaucracy or even part of the executive body. Requesting a (small amount of) co-financing might also help in raising awareness in the management and executive bodies. As a result, this will secure (formal) commitment from the respective authority, which might assist in speeding up processes in later stages. In addition, the simple fact that the route is brought to the notice of relevant managers or executives might already help in this respect.   

Accept suboptimal solutions

Regional governance needs to strike a balance between firmness and flexibility. On the one hand, bicycle highways need to be developed according to the certain quality standards and guidelines (often laid down and defined in relevant subsidy programmes). On the other hand, flexibility is important so that local authorities can design and shape bicycle highways in line with local circumstances (e.g. barriers and opportunities). This not only relates to the physical design, but also the way that the routes are framed and communicated to relevant audiences (ranging from people living in the neighborhood to government agencies that might be willing to finance part of the route). If the realized route does not meet requirements everywhere along the route, this might raise voices to improve the route, which creates political pressure to further invest in the route. The opposite might also occur in which parts of the route are downgraded due to the actual situation on the ground (e.g. unsafe crossings etc.).

Make use of issue-linking (package deals)

For some local authorities, especially those located between major cities, bicycle highways will often only have limited added value (politically). In order to acquire their support, investments in the routes might be connected to other issues or (future) projects in the municipalities. In the Gelderland region, investments in one of the route were connected, in a rather subtle way, to a new bus lines that would service their communities. By addressing these issues simultaneously actors have the possibility to conclude a package deal.

Recognize and exploit (political) windows of opportunity

Needless to say that feeling and constant alertness for opportunities is crucial. An important opportunity in this respect are local elections, which might change the political composition of local authorities, making them more (or less) favorable to policies and measures that promote cycling. This also relates to funding opportunities, which might come from different sources. The exploitation of such opportunities presupposes the presence of a facilitator or coordinator who can devote sufficient time and resources to the route.

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