It wasn't the best day to be out cycling or walking but a simple ceremony beside the Whanganui River yesterday is important to both forms of exercise.

The first sod was turned on the creation of the 5km city to North Mole shared pathway, from the City Bridge to the mouth of the river at Castlecliff.

Doing the honours, Whanganui's Mayor Annette Main said building this pathway, followed by a second one from the bottom of St Johns Hill to the City Bridge, was all about encouraging more people to cycle or walk around the city.

The pathways are being developed with funding assistance from the government's Urban Cycleways Programme.

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The 3m-wide sealed path and boardwalk will upgrade the existing riverfront pathway.

"This pathway celebrates our river culture and history, creating an easy riverside trail that connects the city centre to our seaside suburb of Castlecliff, and creates an iconic end point for the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail where it meets the Tasman Sea," she said.

The first stage of the project, from the bridge to Bedford Ave, will cost $219,000 and the tender has been let to Presco Group. This first stage involves a concrete pathway, paving and seating areas.

It has attracted NZ Transport Agency and Crown funding of 75 per cent and is scheduled to be completed by July.

Ms Main said details for the second stage were being finalised and tenders would be called soon.

The second shared pathway - Te Tuaiwi - is planned for 2017-18. This 2.3km route is a 3m-wide sealed pathway from the bottom of St John's Hill, passing Wanganui Collegiate, Whanganui Intermediate and Whanganui City College before heading down St Hill St to join the pathway to the North Mole.

Ms Main said the new routes were integral to the "Let's Go Whanganui" project aimed at making it easy to leave cars at home and providing safer ways to cycle and walk.

Let's Go Whanganui is a collaborative initiative with other groups and agencies, focussed on allowing a wide range of active transport choices.

"The project will involve projects like the new shared pathways, as well as educational and behaviour change programmes such as cycle skills training, travel planning, events and competitions," she said.