All about cycling in the Netherlands
Never before was a picture re-tweeted, discussed and re-published so often as the one I took last Friday of the new cycle bridge in Zoetermeer near The Hague. I usually tweet one or two pictures that I take while filming material for a future blog post. Most of the time it may take weeks or even months before I finally post that material on my blog, but it was obvious, you want to know everything about this new bridge now!
Zoetermeer, originally a small village, was transformed into a satellite town of The Hague from the 1960s on, to have an answer to the housing shortage in this populous region in South Holland Province. The population grew from 6,400 in 1950 to over 123,300 in 2013. Although the relatively new housing areas have excellent cycling facilities, Zoetermeer didn’t make it to the finals of the 2014 “Best Cycling City of the Netherlands” competition.
A month ago, on 12 December 2013, former mayor Jan Waaijer opened the bridge that got his name. It is a spectacular new connection from the Zoetermeer Westerpark to the nature reserve and recreation area of New Driemanspolder (Three Men’s Polder).
But perhaps the bridge was constructed a bit too early. New Driemanspolder is still an agricultural area with just empty fields. The development into a nature reserve with wood lands and a flood water retention basin, an area that can be inundated in times of dangerously high water, will only start in 2016 and take until at least 2020. After budget cuts this development was postponed by several years. That is why the bridge now ends with a fence and a provisional connection to the existing cycle path it crosses on the polder side. But even while the bridge is not really leading somewhere for the time being, many people already use it for recreational purposes.
The architect of the bridge is Syb van Breda and he won a competition in 2009 in which the municipality of Zoetermeer challenged people to design an outstanding connection to (what have to become) areas with outstanding (constructed) nature. Inspired by a 17th century painting by Dutch master Hobbema, who painted an alley lined with very slender and tall trees, the architect designed a space that is in a way protected from the vast emptiness of the area by light fixtures that define a space for cycling and walking in exactly the same way as the trees of the painting do. The working title was Hobbema 2.0 in reference to that painting. Incidentally the Hobbema painting is now owned by the National Gallery in London. With this bridge the architect tried to create an exciting entrance to the new area. To enhance the attractiveness even further the bridge meanders and also varies in height.
The bridge has a length of about 220 metres, spanning two cycle tracks, three ditches, two rail road tracks and a dual carriageway road (2×1 lane). It is made of weathering steel and weighs about 375 metric tons. The rust that is clearly visible does not damage this type of steel, but rather forms a protective sheet. Therefore the bridge doesn’t need any maintenance nor paint. The prominent light fixtures have large dishes which are lit from below. These dishes on top of the 9 metre tall slender and tapered columns have solar panels that generate 2.5 times the energy needed to light the bridge. The surplus energy is returned to the power grid.
The elements of the bridge were constructed in a factory and transported to the building site. There they were assembled to form larger components that were welded together at their final location. Manholes made it possible to weld in the inside of the bridge deck. The width of the bridge varies a lot, as does the height. At the narrowest location the usable bridge deck is just over 5 metres wide.
Infrastructure of this quality and size does not come cheap. According to the architect the bridge has cost 4 million Euro. But the funds used for the bridge add up to a higher sum. The province of South Holland paid 3.5 million Euro because this bridge fitted in their policies to improve the regional (recreational) cycle routes. The European Fund for Regional Development subsidised 2 million Euro because the bridge is they key entrance to an improvement of this region and lastly the municipality of Zoetermeer paid 1.5 million Euro. Which makes the total for this project 7 million Euro. Is that money well spent? Well, if anything, Zoetermeer has a great piece of infrastructure that can become a well-known landmark. And people cycling face one less barrier. But a bridge like this alone is not enough to make a cycle city. Which was again proven by the decision of the jury of the best cycling city of the Netherlands competition. Big pieces of infrastructure such as this one may be the icing on the cake, but in the end it’s the cake itself that matters most!
My video of the new cycle bridge “Burgemeester Jan Waaijerbrug” in Zoetermeer.
Website of the architect (in English)
Website of the engineers (in English)
Pictures taken during construction
Site of the engineers (in Dutch) with links to the detailed construction drawings in PDF
Video with renderings by the municipality of Zoetermeer
Information Sheet by the municipality of Zoetermeer (in Dutch)