Iconic bridge for cycling and walking in Purmerend

“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 double bridge as seen from the canal.

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.

An aerial picture shows the pedestrian arch over the zigzag cycle bridge with the Purmerend town centre in the distance. (Picture courtesy of Next Architects). The streets in the foreground are cycleways, shared with pedestrians. No motortraffic may use those streets. The dotted lines are unusual on cycleways, but people walking stay on the outside of those lines, which may have been the purpose.

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.

Many school children use the cycle bridge to get to and from school in safety.

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

11 thoughts on “Iconic bridge for cycling and walking in Purmerend

  1. Isn’t that discriminatory with regard to elderly and slightly-disabled pedestrians, and those with small children in prams? It is very pretty, but it isn’t universally accessible.

    1. It would be if all these people would be forced up the arch. But they are not. So that is not the case. Everybody is allowed to use the lower bridge as they please. Only those who want to need to use the upper bridge.

  2. For a long time I’ve been interested in the use of zig zags (in North America they’re called switchbacks) to get up hills. The important thing is the the turning point have a wide enough area to allow for the natural logistics of a bicycle to make it’s turn easily and without interfering with someone else who might be going the other direction.
    This bridge is pretty cool and of course for us foreigners the only thing we think of when the name Purmerend comes up is this:

    1. Believe me, that was the only thing that came to my mind too! And “on my way to Purmerend” (that’s the main line in that song) it was in my head all the time! 🙂

      1. It’s a classic for sure. I almost got to Purmerend a few years ago, on a rented OV Fiets but only had time to get to Ilpendam and Monnickendam but I wanted to get further only to see what the song was about. (and maybe it was only because it rhymes with “bekend”.)
        Beautiful country there. Amazing food too. Love those veal and cheese krokets.

  3. Most cities around the world want to “put themselves on the map” by building the tallest skyscraper or biggest shopping mall or something like that. It seems that cities and towns in The Netherlands put themselves on the map by building unique bridges for cyclists and pedestrians. I know what I prefer! Every time I read about something like this, I think: “I got to go to that town sometime soon”. While normally I would never have any particular reason to go to Purmerend, or Eindhoven, Nijmegen, etc.
    Apart from that all these bridges have a practical purpose as well, of course.

  4. I believe that this bridge features in an episode of “het kan niet waar zijn”. The item was rather negative as it was deemed to expensive by having that pedestrian arch which is hardly used. Pedestrians would prefer the flat surface over the arch just like cyclist do.

  5. I do feel that some efficiency for crossing this bridge by bicycle has been sacrificed by the artistic design. The extra zigzag’s created by the entry ramps seem a bit superfluous to me: they’re not needed to gain height and make the crossing longer and slower with the hairpin turns, while the main design features would also be there without these. This leaves me wondering: would a car bridge be designed with a similar zigzag?

    1. It’s very hard to see on pictures (the walking bridge appears much steeper than it really is as well) but there really is a purpose to the zigzag. The height difference would be impossible to bridge with shorter ramps.

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