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Dublin’s bicycle traffic lights should be given headstart now, not in six months

A recently installed mini-traffic light mounted on a normal traffic light poll at Harolds Cross Road and Rathgar Ave (Image: Bam Soles‎)

“The City of Copenhagen has it as a standard feature for safety and it has proved effective,” says Danish cycling expert Mikael Colville-Andersen when we talked to him last week about bicycle traffic lights which give people cycling a headstart from other traffic.

Dublin City Council installed the bicycle traffic lights at a number of junctions without the headstart safety function. But Copenhagen along with other cities such as Berlin have installed bicycle traffic lights with headstart functions on a large scale. UK cities such as Cambridge also use them on a smaller scale. These are not a new invention.

How long of headstart is needed? In Copenhagen, Colville-Andersen says: “It varies depending on the intersection. Volume, number of accidents, right turn lane, etc. Many are two seconds, but some are up to ten seconds.”

The typical headstart used around the world seems closer to five seconds than two. The timing in recent and planned UK projects ranges from three seconds to five.

On a mid-sized junction five seconds is a surprising amount of time — it will allows somebody cycling to clear the junction, or come close to doing so, before motorised traffic gets a green light. The same can be said for two or three seconds on smaller junctions.

Dutch cities like Amsterdam also use the feature at some junctions where general traffic and people cycling are not given fully separated green light sequences. But, even where that happens in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands, usually people on bicycles will also be placed physically ahead of traffic in a segregated path. So there’s a double headstart.

We were the first to report that the lights were installed but not using their headstart function. On June 26, we asked the council:

  • These seem to be operating to the same sequence as the normal traffic lights above them. What is the point of these bicycle traffic lights?
  • How many of these lights been installed and where have they been installed?
  • How much do the lights cost, per unit and installation?
  • In other countries these types of bicycle lights are often used to give people cycling an advance green light, allowing cyclists to pull off legally a few seconds before other traffic. Is there any plan to give such an ‘advanced green’ with the new lights installed by the council? If not, why not?

Their reply on July 2 said:

“The cycle traffic lights are an awareness measure. They are synchronised with the existing vehicular traffic signals and compliment vehicular and pedestrian signals. They remind cyclists that they can not run a red light. Dublin City Council is confident that cyclists will respond positively to them. Several of these lights have been installed at locations around Dublin city.”

BERLIN: A traffic light poll with a general traffic light and a mini-bicycle light with a different design that its Irish counterpart

The Sunday Times followed up on the story and the council did not even get back to them with a comment.

According to the council’s statements the lights are just an awareness measure and that was after we had asked directly about any plan to have a headstart feature included.

The council only confirmed the plan for use of the headstart function last Sunday when the Metro Hearld and Irish Independent were working on follow up stories of coverage by the Sunday Times that morning.

Metro Herald reported: “A spokesman for Dublin City Council said it does intend to introduce a lead time, but he did not have a date for when this would happen.”

The city’s free commuter newspaper added: “He said that firstly the city council wants to get drivers, cyclists and pedestrians used to the lights, as well as making sure that all of the poles supporting them are software compatible.”

The same sized traffic lights on the Canals route

As we reported, the same size mini-traffic lights were first used in Ireland along the Canals cycle route, between Portobello and the north Docklands, and on a segregated bicycle crossing on City Quay — both locations have fully separate signal phases for bicycles and motor traffic. Before their use, the law had to be changed to allow for the smaller sized lights.

So, these lights are already in place, legal, and already visible to motorists at other junctions. The small size and bicycle symbol makes it clear that these are not for general traffic. Getting “drivers, cyclists and pedestrians used to the lights” used to the lights when the sequence is set to change does not make much sense.

Some time may be needed for testing the lights and resequencing the junctions, and that’s fair enough, but Dublin residents who cycle should not be left months without the headstart feature. There’s no point having the lights without the headstart function and there’s so-far no reason given for the delay which makes sense.

The city council’s inability to give even an estimated time means the function could remain switch off for six months or more, but that should not be the case. Turn them on now. is reader-funded journalism. That means it's funded by readers like you.

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Cian Ginty


  1. Good follow-up article. My worry is that drivers will become used to using the bike-lights instead of craning their necks up to watch the bigger traffic lights. Then when the time comes that the bike-lights are given a head-start, drivers may already be in the habit of relying on them instead of the regular ones.

  2. “They remind cyclists that they can not run a red light.” yeah, sounds more like the usual patronising anti-cycling garbage to me, so much for pro-cycling measures that see cycling as a normal and serious urban transport mode.
    To me, this appears as a typical instance of what David Hembrow’s “don’t aim too low/don’t have low aspirations” mantra is trying to avoid. We ask for a substandard solution (a mere head start at lights), we get less than that (essentially nothing but an improved “awareness”). In my opinion, we shouldn’t even waste time asking the city council to implement a head start, which will be a substandard solution anyhow. Just ask directly for the best solution, which is to be found in the Netherlands, not Copenhagen:

  3. Saw these new traffic lights after I almost got flattened by a cyclist at the crossing by the Olympia theatre. The lights were red. This is a waste of money. Cyclists don’t obey them anyway.


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