All about cycling in the Netherlands
To give people the opportunity to cycle to their work place much easier, the city of Tilburg built a beautiful steel suspension bridge for cycling and walking only. Located to the North-West of a relatively new residential area of Tilburg, called Reeshof, the bridge spans the Wilhelmina Canal. Its main purpose is to give people cycling to the industrial area Vossenberg a short cut. In second place the bridge is also part of the recreational cycle network and last but not least it serves as a new main cycle route from Tilburg to the village of Dongen. It is expected that on average about 4,000 people will be using the bridge daily.
The entire project started early 2012, but building started in April 2013. The bridge was opened in September that same year. With all the connecting cycle ways it cost 2.05 million euros.
The steel bridge was designed to be slender and modest, so it would not be intrusive in the landscape. Views over the canal and past and under the bridge should remain as unobstructed as possible. The V-shaped concrete pylons in their natural grey colour were therefore kept as low as possible at 15 metres. Low enough to merge with the rows of trees on either side of the canal, but still strong enough to support the cables holding up the bridge deck. That deck was also kept grey to fit in with the colour tones of the murky water of the canal. Because the bridge deck is relatively narrow it was possible to let the integrated sides of the bridge deck double as the supporting beams. That meant the deck itself could be kept very thin. That in turn means less height, which people cycling must conquer with their own muscle power after all.
The bridge deck parts were constructed in Belgium, by the same company that constructed the parts for the Kick Pruijs Bridge in Hoofddorp. The deck was put in place in under 48 hours in a weekend in July 2013, so the important canal would not have to be closed too long. From a ship, the three parts were hoisted up and connected to the suspension cables and the previously built concrete pylons. A local resident published an interesting short video about this.
The total length of the bridge is 103 metres, but the main span is almost 70 metres. The width of the deck is 4.8 metres. This width has to be shared between people cycling and walking, but the latter will not use the bridge in high numbers. The railings, at a height of 1.2 metres, attached to the side of the bridge, have integrated led lights, so the bridge is well-lit at night.
Steel suspension bridges are not very common in The Netherlands, especially not for cycling and walking only. The unusual bridge was (perhaps for that reason) a nominee for the national steel prize 2014. The website of the steel prize gives a lot of information and on this site the construction drawings of the bridge can even be found (site in Dutch).
I visited the bridge on a grey Friday in November. Trucks were loading sand onto a barge in the canal. This drew some people, men and boys, who watched that activity from the bridge. From a nearby tall dike I could film looking down on the bridge. Few women were cycling at that time. Since this was in the afternoon and a cold one as well, only a few older couples who were cycling for recreation passed by. Apart from the men repairing a bike on the bridge, who were obviously co-workers, not many people cycled to and from work at that time.
My video showing the Voldijk cycle bridge in Tilburg.
My second video shows a ride from the side of the industrial area over the bridge into the residential area. I didn’t stop filming after I crossed the bridge, so you can see how the cycleways continue into the city. Note that the first cars I encounter are only towards the end of the video when I cross a major distributor road. But even there I can easily cross and no traffic lights are needed. The rest of the area is very quiet. There are almost no people cycling nor driving their cars. What is striking, however, is the number of people walking their dogs in such a short ride. Dutch dogs are very used to cycling so it is safe to pass one even when it is not on a leash. Apparently Friday afternoon at 3 is the time everybody walks their dog in Tilburg – Reeshof.
A ride over the Voldijk cycle bridge and into Tilburg – Reeshof
Although Tilburg has the image that it lost its role as an innovator for cycling infrastructure, that it had in the 1980s, it still builds beautiful things like this. Yet another great bridge to reduce the number of barriers to cycling in The Netherlands. That this bridge can be used by people to get to work but also serves as a recreational and regional connection is very good. That it is also pleasing for the eye is a nice bonus.