Three second head start?

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Three second head start?

Is a "three second head start" a Dutch/Denmark simple but effective way around the problem of junction design or is this a British idea?

I am interested becuase I was involved a bit with the article here: which I think was great and I am very impresed with Burgess from the Times and what he says in the sound byte.  However:

"Burgess, too, looks to the Netherlands for inspiration in good cycling policy. Better junctions are ideal he says, but in Europe`s older cities, such as Vienna, often there isn’t room for wide extra cycle paths and new street furniture, and yet Dutch cities Amsterdam and Groningen, as well as Copenhagen in Denmark, have come up with simple but effective ways around the problem, such as giving them a three second head start at the lights to make them more visible to drivers."

I am not sure about the 3 second thing as it seams like an ASL type solution with trafic lights rather than paint.  I would be interesed in some feedback about this.  Is it really a good solution that works or is it a cheap idea that might?


Except perhaps as a user, but it would seem to me that a 3 second start is going to be more useful than an ASL anyone can stop in. On the other hand, if they ignore an ASL, why not a cycle traffic light? 


Also, it strikes me as the kind of thing that it's worth trying somewhere: if they can trial those bastard pedestrians counters in Holborn, why not trial this as well?


I thought the "red+amber" phase was typically used as a head start by most road users... (Although in some places moving off at that point that would be dangerous due to miniscule intergreen periods, especially at signallised roundabouts.)


I think are generally combined with separate tracks and bike phases - the idea being that the bikes are long way ahead of the cars anyway at the junction. It solves the oft-cited problem of bikes on tracks being 'invisible' to cars, and then coming into conflict at junctions where they rejoin traffic.

There's a fair bit on traffic lights here but as far as I could see, the bikes are all mostly separated from cars, and it's about fine tuning the timings and cycles, rather than giving bikes a head start but otherwise mixing them with traffic.


AKA TownMouse


Thanks Sally.

It sounds like he is talking about a head start that can only be provided with a GO signal on roads that are too narrow for separate bike paths.  This strikes me as not really resolving conflict but creating a quick run they are comming environment.  I suspect this will help with initial visability but will create a larger speed difference when bikes and mortor traffic merges again.

However if it is a distance head start that would make more sense to me so long as it is not an ASL.  Anyway untill you see a drawing it is all just unsunderstanding and speculation.

Thanks anyway,



I have a basic question about the three-second head start idea. How are the cyclists going to get moving if the motorists are all in the way? I think ASLs are a good idea - but they're currently ruined by being entirely unenforced. I've been assaulted once and threatened with assault once in the last nine months after suggesting (politely) to motorists that they ought not to be in the advance stop area. It simply seems not to have occured to many motorists that they're meant to obey them.

It seems to me that a three-second head start is going to work where there's no separate cycle lane only where the bikes are in an advance stop area. And, if the advance stop area were properly enforced, the need for another measure, the three-second head start, disappears.

But perhaps I'm missing something here.


Fatbob's picture

I think better infrastructure design is the solution here - Sally's post #5 refers.




I think ASL create conflict as you have experianced.  A 3 sec heads start also creates conflict 3 seconds later but if the infrastructure is well designed the conflict disapears.  This is why I am interested how the 3 second head start works.  I hope sally is right and it is not a delayed conflict cheap fix.

David Hembrow

I only just saw this, but I'd like to add to Sally's response. I've never seen a head start used on its own in the Netherlands.

There were junctions where a cycle-path was parallel with a road and the cyclists got green first to give them a head start over drivers who might turn across the cycle-path (right turn here, left turn in the UK). I remember riding through a junction like this in Eindhoven about ten years ago. However, I've never seen another example in another city. I suspect it was never really very common. Rather than merely giving cyclists a "head start" which only could exist for those who reached the junction while the lights were red, the conflict has been eliminated altogether.

Sadly, this is an example of someone yet again inventing a "solution" which they imagine might be "Dutch" rather than looking at what is really done in the Netherlands.

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