All about cycling in the Netherlands
Cycling is taken into account when the Dutch undertake large infrastructure projects. Nijmegen now has a third bridge over the river Waal and it has a smooth wide cycle path. The bridge is named ‘The Crossing’ (De Oversteek) after a heroic military action in World War II and it was opened on 24 November 2013. The river Waal formed the north border of the city for 2000 years, but that is now changing. Nijmegen’s first bridge was the 1879 railway bridge. In 1936 the first traffic bridge was completed. Both these bridges can also be used for cycling. In the case of the railway bridge on the now 10-year-old cycle bridge attached to it (the ‘Snelbinder’). This new third bridge is part of a much larger project, that involves water management and a large-scale city expansion north of the river in the former village of Lent.
As a measure to prevent flooding, the government of The Netherlands is changing the course of the river Waal at Nijmegen. The Nijmegen project is in itself again also part of a much larger project called ‘Room for the River’ in which more than 30 rivers throughout the country are being altered.
Jan Hendrik Dronkers, director-general Rijkswaterstaat:
“Fighting against water is no longer the way to keep the Netherlands secure and liveable. In this country we must learn to live with water by giving it a place in our daily lives. Safety is still paramount in our water management, but ‘building with nature’ is the credo nowadays. Also the river is being redeveloped. While at the same time we create space for nature, recreation or urban activities.”
(From the Room for the River brochure)
At Nijmegen, the river Waal makes a sharp bend that forms a bottleneck. In 1993 and again in 1995 this caused severe floods. To prevent that from happening again, the dike north of the Waal was moved 350 metres inland. In the thus enlarged flood plains an extra channel will be dug that will normally not be needed for the main flow of the river. But, in the case of high water levels, surplus water can flow to this artificial second river branch. It effectively doubles the size of the river bed. The land in between the original river and the extra channel will form an artificial island. Under normal water level conditions the flood plain area can also be used for recreation and as a nature reserve. Several new bridges will have to be built to reach the new island. The project is now in the stage that the channel excavation has started.
The new traffic bridge was built at the location of the river crossing in World War II, by the American soldiers from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment attached to the 82nd Airborne Division on 20 September 1944. This heroic crossing heralded the liberation of Nijmegen. To commemorate that event, the bridge got its name ‘The Crossing’ (De Oversteek). Two veterans were present when the bridge was opened, as well as some relatives of the 48 men who were killed in this military action. To honour these men who gave their lives for the liberation of Nijmegen, the bridge has 48 double light fixtures. These lights are lit up slowly one by one from south to north every night. A symbolic recreation of the crossing in a work of art of lights. The lighting sequence of these 48 lights is clearly visible in a time-lapse video of the opening night.
At the request of the city of Nijmegen the new bridge was designed by Belgian architect Chris Poulissen and engineer Laurent Ney from Luxembourg.
On their own website the architects describe the project as follows:
“The city of Nijmegen formulated the specification of the bridge in a document outlining their ambitions. Within this, design criteria were laid down which helped to set out the project.
A first issue concerns the placement within the surroundings. The urban bridge has to form an integral part of the riverscape, and be both seen and experienced from the banks as well as from the bridge itself. A second criterion requires the design to be consistent with the existing and future image of Nijmegen in terms of the relocation of the dyke and the spatial developments around the Waal River. This means that the main construction has to stand in relationship to the whole programme and function in an ideal way as a major piece of traffic infrastructure. A third ambition describes the bridge as a work of art that, in a single gesture, articulates contemporary technology and design. The fourth criterion focuses on the function and experiential value of the bridge: the urban bridge should create an ‘urban plaza’, both on deck and at ground level, as well as a pleasant environment underneath.
The ramps of ‘De Oversteek’ are designed from a range of materials and construction methods that relate to nature. It involves traditional techniques (cast in situ concrete and brick masonry) that create a feeling of craftsmanship. The design, materials, dimensions and detailing of the ramps, unlike the arch bridge, are elaborated on a human scale. […] The bridge is the result of a well thought-out process of optimisation combining engineering with urbanism and architecture. A principle aim of the design process is to make the structural efficiency visible. There are no added ‘counterfeits’. The bridge is coherent and logical in relation to physical laws. Natural beauty is a consequence.”
Facts about ‘The Crossing’
Approach Ramp South 170 metres
Approach Span South 230 metres
Main Bridge Span 285 metres
Height of the arch (from the deck) 60 metres
Approach Span North 680 metres
Approach Ramp North 300 metres
Total length of bridge, approach spans and ramps is about 1.6 km (1 mile).
Building time 915 days.
Building cost circa €260 million
(Of which the national government paid €160m)
2 x 2 lanes for motor traffic
Speed limit 50km/h (31mph)
One central lane reserved for public transport and emergency services
There is a wide two-way cycle path on the east side of the bridge.
The two-way cycle track is shielded from the motor traffic lanes by a glass wall that also stops sound of the motor traffic and wind. That this cycle path must also be used by pedestrians is one of the main criticisms of the bridge. And you could think that the architects – who are not Dutch after all – did not understand the importance of cycling in the Netherlands. But that would be an unfair judgement as it may have to do with money reserved for this project, rather than with their ideas. The same architects also designed ‘Het Groentje’ and that is perfect.
The Nijmegen branch of the Cyclists’ Union has also some remarks and they involve the embedding of the bridge in its surroundings. The new island can only be reached by using stairs and that cannot be called cycle friendly. There is also no cycle friendly connection from the new high-speed cycle route Nijmegen to Beuningen that passes under the south approach span to the bridge itself. Very odd, considering both bridge and cycle route are new and should have had a connection. The turbo roundabout at the south end of the bridge approach cannot be crossed by people cycling wanting to go west. If they do want to go west they either have to use one of the stairs or make a very long detour to cross the road much further south. These stairs may be usable for a fit cyclist with an ordinary bicycle. But I filmed two men carrying a recumbent up the stairs and it is obvious that you could never do that on your own. This will also pose problems for school children, the elderly and people in a bakfiets.
Jac Splinter uploaded a video to YouTube to show how badly accessible the surrounding infrastructure is for pedestrians and people cycling. He loathes the city council’s inability to make the bridge easily accessible for other traffic than motor traffic: “They had 10 years to think about routes and they didn’t even come up with a few necessary signs. For motor traffic there are over 70 signs, but I stopped counting to be honest” Jac says in his video called ‘Car thinking’.
The bridge is also supposed to be used by people as a recreational site in itself. The bridge therefore has a couple of wider areas with white concrete benches for people to sit on and watch the river landscape. But when these people arrive by bicycle there is no real space to park their bicycles. There is also no real designated space for people to walk the bridge. The cycle path has to be used by people walking, apart from some areas where there is a single white line separating the cycle track and the pedestrians. But I was told this white line was more meant to prevent cyclists from cycling too close to the edge of the bridge, because in that case they might hit their heads to the wires holding up the deck.
But these are all complaints made in a country that is used to very high standards of cycling infrastructure. See for yourself what the bridge looks like in the two videos to go with this post. One to show the bridge itself and one view from the saddle riding over it from south to north.
A portait of the Nijmegen bridge ‘The Crossing’ (De Oversteek).
A ride on the Nijmegen bridge ‘The Crossing’ (De Oversteek).