All about cycling in the Netherlands
“A high profile and iconic bridge for Purmerend, that’s what I think we’ve built and that’s what we’ve wanted to build right from the beginning.” In a video documentary, Alderman Hans Krieger of Purmerend doesn’t even try to hide how proud he is of the 6 million euro bridge that spans the North Holland Canal right next to the historic town centre of Purmerend. He even shows the bridge as a background of his twitter account.
The new bridge, called Melkwegbrug (Milky Way Bridge), was opened late 2012. It connects the town centre to the latest addition of Purmerend, the suburb “Weidevenne”. Purmerend is a town that was founded by an Amsterdam banker in the year 1410. It is located 17 kilometres or a little over 10 miles to the north of Amsterdam and it is home to about 80,000 people.
The new area of the town has a lot of housing and schools and a lot of people cycling and walking had to make quite a detour to get to the town’s centre. That was because the old road from Amsterdam to Purmerend was cut in two by the North Holland Canal when it was dug in the 1820s. That historic route has been reconnected again for people walking and cycling.
To make it convenient for people to cycle, it is all important to have a good and complete network of cycle routes. Bridges like these literally bridge barriers and they make the network complete. That is why these bridges are more important than you might think. You could argue that a plain bridge would have sufficed, but if wanting to flaunt an exceptional bridge is the incentive to build a bridge at all, I see nothing wrong with it.
In 2006, the municipality of Purmerend asked several architects to make plans for a bridge. They chose Next Architects, who, together with Rietveld Landscape designed this iconic bridge.
More than just building a connection to get from A to B, the architects tried to upgrade the entire zone. The canal zone looked like it was the edge of town, but with the new suburb, this area would be in the middle of it. That’s why the architects tried to make the bridge part of an area with a specific identity, where you would want to stay. A destination in itself.
They designed a simple but tough looking bridge in the colour of the water of the canal it spans: dark gray. The lower bridge is for people walking and cycling and to let ships pass, this part can be opened. The two bridge deck parts can revolve to either side. The 12 metre high arch is for pedestrians and they can keep using the bridge, even when the lower bridge has opened. There are 139 steps and you would think people would only use the high arch when the lower bridge is open, but that is not the case! The arch has a very strong attraction and people use the arch to have a magnificent view, or as a workout, or just to look what it is like (from) up there.
The bridge is made of steel and it was created in a workshop and then shipped, via the canal it now spans, to Purmerend. Where the steel parts were connected to concrete foundations. Building took place from May 2011 to October 2012. The length of the lower bridge is 100 meters and it zigzags over the canal to save space. The cycleway and footway are 5 metres wide in total and only a dotted line indicates the difference between cycleway and footway. That division is not really observed by people, but that causes no problems. Each of the two revolving parts of the lower bridge weighs 100 metric tons. The steel arch weighs 80 tons. At night, LED lights integrated into the bridge’s paths provide illumination.
When in 2010 the local television station confronted people in the streets with the fact that the bridge would cost 6 million euros, some were shocked, but most saw the need for a good connection to the new area of the town. When you look at my video below you will see how well the bridge is used, especially by children cycling to and from school. It is very good that these children now have a direct connection to the town’s centre, completely away from motor traffic. That makes cycling convenient, attractive and safe. And that is worth a lot!
Video showing the exceptional bridge for walking and cycling in Purmerend