The transport system is a complicated system with many competing demands and users. We need a smarter proactive approach to managing our transport network - one that reflects agreed strategic goals and one that helps resolve competing demands for  the limited space that is available.

While there will always be a need to maintain quality roads and occasionally enhance capacity, there is increasingly the need to  ‘sweat the existing asset’ (better use existing transport resources) and involve all types of network users to get the best from  existing resources.

The network operating framework is an integrated process that helps us better manage and plan the use of the transport network and explicitly link transport to the adjacent land uses.

What it is

The network operating framework is simply an agreed process that enables collaborative discussions and that links strategic intent with operational and planning decisions. It does this using four workshop-based steps and a common language for the stakeholders to use. Towards the end of the process, there is a tool  that allows performance deficiencies to be identified and interventions tested and compared.

It is also a holistic vision of transport that focuses on:

  • moving people and goods, not vehicles, and seeing this by time of day
  • seeing transport as supporting broader community goals
  • balancing the competing demands for limited road space
  • thinking ‘network’ rather than sites or routes.


What does it do and what does it deliver

The framework is a collaborative process based on a common language. For the Network Operating Framework to work, partnerships are needed across all stakeholders and at all levels.

All road users will continue to have legitimate access to the entire transport network. However, by applying the framework, certain routes will be assigned priority to enable them to work better for designated modes at particular times of day. This attempts to provide an integrated approach to managing congestion, safety and competing demands for limited road space on these routes. It also supports future planning and development of transport and travel choices by establishing the future networks with modal priority attached that deliver strategic goals.

The process involves all relevant and major transport stakeholders agreeing on a collaborative view of strategic intent for a geographic area and how this is enabled and delivered by  transport. This leads to a vision and language that embraces all modes across the entire network.

At all stages, stakeholders agree what is expected of transport, how and to whom priority is assigned and what the effects are of interventions on the network. The process is also an engagement and agreement framework, assisting clear and consistent informed decision making.

The framework has a tool that visually demonstrates overarching effect and any detailed trade-offs being made in order to deliver strategic goals that result from a given transport project or land use development. It informs decision making and helps establish agreements, partnerships and understanding of the network-wide effects of interventions as the basis for wider consultation and network or project development.

The framework has the potential to be a key planning and operational tool to inform decisions and to link those decisions to both strategic objectives and operational interventions. It also enables users to make informed travel decisions in relation to how they see the network developing and being operated.

  • The workshops

    Who is involved?

    Road controlling authorities (RCAs), regional councils, stakeholder groups for walking, cycling and freight.

    What is needed?

    Core agreed strategic outcomes from the network and a 'one network' vision and approach.

    How many?

    At least four workshops lasting approximately three hours each.

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  • What it does

    A network operating framework:

    • provides a 'one network' view across modes and network ownership
    • provides agreement on strategic transport objectives
    • links strategy and operations
    • demonstrates the trade-off decisions and consequences on a constrained netwokr
    • enables consistent and clear informed decisions (mobility)
    • ensures network optimisation and unlocking of network potential
    • ensures value for money
    • ensures integrated planning.
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  • What it can deliver

    A network operating framework can deliver:

    • engagement and understanding with stakeholders
    • transparency in decision-making
    • a focus shift, to people and goods
    • optimised decision-making (around efficiency and mobility)
    • a 'one network' approach
    • integrated planning
    • a bringing together of planners, engineers and operations in the same arena.
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  • What it doesn't do

    A network operating framework:

    • is not a silver bullet for decision-making
    • does not explicitly assess other aspects, such as safety, economics and accessibility
    • does not remove anyone's decision-making freedom
    • does not identify solutions - it enables solutions to be tested.
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The framework detail

The transport network needs to support ever-growing populations and economic development. The framework is underpinned by allocating priority that separates, where possible, many of the conflicts by road user, by place and by time of day. It also recognises that good access for people needs to be a key element of the transport system.

The set of guiding principles by which priority is allocated by mode, type of place and time of day is called the road use hierarchy.

  • Road use hierarchy - by mode

    Traditional road hierarchies have categorised roads in terms of their broad function, ie motorways, state highways, arterials, main roads and local roads. Instead, the framework focuses on a hierarchy based on the users of the road network. Giving each transport mode priority on roads across a network helps  resolve competing demands for road space.

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  • Road use hierarchy - by place

    Activity centres are areas that provide a concentration of business, shopping, working and leisure. There are usually conflicts between all modes of transport in these centres. The key desire is to reduce the level of ‘through’ traffic and promote access to centres in certain situations. This will be achieved by managing  priorities and function by time of day.

    For example, an arterial road might primarily function as a transport link carrying commuters etc through a local activity centre in the morning peak in order to  support regional economic growth, yet between the peak hours its transport function diminishes relative to the local community’s needs in order to support local economic activities. Traffic could be managed to use certain routes, which would allow priority and space to be made available on other roads for other modes.

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  • Road use hierarchy - by time

    The desired road use priority may vary for different periods of the day depending on travel demand and the adjacent land use and activity. The needs of each mode of transport vary throughout the day and also vary according to the day of the week and time of the year. The four key time periods for road use are: AM  peak (morning), inter peak (between AM and PM peak), PM peak (afternoon) and off peak (evening).

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The four steps in the framework

The four steps are as follows:

  1. Strategic setting:
    The workshop participants discuss, compare and contrast the strategic objectives for an area and how transport might support these. Primarily, this means  considering how to move people and goods safely and efficiently to ensure good access to and from land use types. The outcome is an agreed set of  short, succinct strategic objectives and broad related transport principles that help determine which modes might be supported, in terms of priority, at certain times of day.
  2. Links and places map:
    In a workshop, each mode on the network (pedestrian, public transport, cycling, general traffic and freight) and the adjacent land use are mapped. The  map generally describes the primary (most important and heavily used) network and the supporting secondary network of feeder routes for each mode.  These are combined on a single map to describe the strategic modal network and land use types for the area.
  3. Road use hierarchy map:
    The time-based priority principles for each mode and by type of place are applied to the strategic network to generate a map for each time of day that  illustrates modal priorities at intersections. These maps are known as the ‘road use hierarchy maps’. These maps reflect the strategic intent developed  and agreed in step 1 and are a graphical network representation of the transport network that will deliver the strategies used in step 1.
  4. Operating gaps:
    The tool is actively used in step 4. A workshop-based assessment can be undertaken to compare the performance of the network today versus the  future network state that is needed to deliver the strategic intent. The difference, or operating gap, is visually displayed by the tool. These operating gaps  should be the focus of attention when developing interventions to address the performance gaps.
  • Assessment process

    An assessment process is used to determine whether an intervention will reduce the operating gap. This might be anything from a proposed land use change to changes to the road operation or construction of infrastructure. The assessment includes all the roads and intersections in the network that are likely to be affected by the proposal. The assessment can be conducted for all time periods across the day or for a specific time period that the proposal is targeting (eg  AM peak). Using the tool, each transport mode is assessed at each intersection.

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  • Further opportunities

    Beyond step 4 there is an opportunity to develop shorter-term operations plans for the network in order to take network stakeholders towards their agreed goal,  while a longer-term plan of improvements can also be agreed as a future works package to further deliver the larger-scale solutions to address operating gaps.

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