All about cycling in the Netherlands
With the trains still restricted to essential travel only, I am forced to find topics for my blog within cycling distance. As luck would have it, an impressive new wooden cycle bridge was opened just last month in Oirschot about 23 kilometres from my home. I only found out about it recently, but I was able to cycle there already the following day. I can now show you what a magnificent new bridge it is!
Although it is not far away from ʼs-Hertogenbosch, Oirschot is much closer to Eindhoven and Tilburg and is more connected to those two cities. That meant that I hadn’t heard about this bridge at all. I did cycle to Oirschot before to show you the nice cycle route from Oirschot to Boxtel and that was the same route I had to take now. The route was so familiar that I could ride it without having to look at a map on my phone once. After a little over an hour I simply reached the beautiful bridge and I spent two hours on and around it, admiring it and filming. I was there much longer than I had anticipated, but I also enjoyed the lunch sandwiches I brought with me and took all the time I needed.
The bridge connects a new neighbourhood south of the Wilhelmina Canal to the historic town centre of Oirschot, but it is also part of the developing so-called Green Corridor to Eindhoven about 14 kilometres to the south-east. I have shown you the Eindhoven part of this corridor (aptly called Oirschotsedijk) in my portrait about Eindhoven some years ago. That road was changed to a cycle street in 2013. The decision to build this bridge was taken in 2015.
That the bridge is constructed from wood has to do with the fact that the designers wanted the bridge to fit in with that green corridor which is mainly going to be used for recreation. The tropical hardwood Azobe was chosen to construct this truss bridge, but there are also steel and brick elements. The ramps are supported by slender steel columns that keep the sight lines open. The main span of the bridge rests on two concrete pillars clad in red brick. The railings are steel in an earth tone colour that will fit with the redeveloping landscaping (more trees will later be planted around the bridge.) The main span was constructed in Kampen. It was shipped in one piece (95 metric tons in weight) all across the Netherlands. The route was an impressive 245 kilometres long and took the pontoon with the bridge deck via Lake IJssel and a number of rivers and canals all the way to Oirschot. The bridge was built by the same company that also built the wooden bridge in Harderwijk. I showed you that bridge earlier. I also wrote about yet two other wooden cycle bridges; one in ʼs-Hertogenbosch and one in Grubbenvorst.
The impressive route the bridge had to follow (halfway across the country) from the building location to Oirschot.
The design of this new bridge is very well balanced and some design features are not so much visible as they are noticeable when you use the bridge. For instance that all turns in the bridge have the exact same wide radius. That makes the ride very comfortable. The slopes also add to the comfort. The inclines are very gentle: just 2.65% on the north side and 3.1% on the south side. That is well below the recommended maximum grade of 5% in the Dutch recommendations. It is absolutely possible for people of all ages and backgrounds to use this bridge. It is also no problem at all to push a baby carriage or a wheel chair up and people in mobility scooters will be able to easily use the bridge as well. Pedestrians can take stairs as a shortcut. The stairs have grooves, so you can also push your bicycle up. That seemed a bit excessive at first, but I saw one young girl using the stairs all the while shouting to her grandmother “see, it IS shorter this way”. But her grandmother used the ramps instead; much more convenient. The total length of the bridge and the access ramps is 280.5 metres, of which 40.5 metres form the actual bridge over the canal. The useable bridge deck is 4 metres wide. The full width of the bridge is wider with the railings and the beams. The deck surface is wood, but it has anti-slip strips to make it safer when the wood gets wet for instance. At night the bridge is beautifully lit with light fixtures at the top of the main span and LED lights in the railings. Unfortunately, it is light until almost midnight now, so I didn’t get to film that.
The bridge crosses the canal diagonally. That was a deliberate design choice, because that way the church tower of the main church in Oirschot is perfectly aligned with the bridge. The sight-lines were not only part of the design, they were also cause for concern. In 2016, in the public consultation, residents expressed concern that people on the bridge ramps would be at the same height as their bedroom windows and they would be looking into those bedrooms. The municipality stated that the bridges’ footprint was kept as small as possible so the access ramps would be as far away as possible and this would not be a major problem.
The actual construction work on the site of the bridge started in the summer of 2019. The bridge was supposed to be finished by the end of 2019 but a conflict arose between the municipality and the contractor Ballast Nedam. This company also built the huge cycle bridge in Nigtevecht that I showed you earlier. It was established that the municipality supplied the wrong information to the contractor which led to faulty calculations and problems. The conflict resulted in delays and even an official investigation into how the public tender had taken place. In the end the municipality had to pay the contractor €500,000 extra and the delay had caused additional costs of €200,000. That amount came on top of the €1.5 million the municipality had budgeted for this bridge. The rest of the cost, €1.9 million, was taken care of by the Province of North-Brabant, bringing the total cost for this bridge to €4.1 million. After a check the pillars of the bridge on the north side turned out not be strong enough, the foundation of those pillars had to be reinforced. After that problem was out of the way, the main bridge deck could be placed in February 2020. It took two huge 400 ton cranes to lift the bridge from the pontoon it arrived on onto the pillars. Willem van Gils filmed this from a drone and I was kindly allowed to use a few seconds of his images in my video. There was still a lot to be finished on site, but the bridge could finally be opened on 20 May, albeit without much fanfare due to the Corona crises.
The bridge was named Stönner-Meijwaard Bridge, after the last names of two soldiers who died in World War II during the liberation of Oirschot in 1944. This ties the bridge to local history and to cycle routes which interested people can follow to learn more about the war. World War II is never far away in the Netherlands. There is a determination not to forget the horrors of the war and that people gave their lives to end it. I’ve shown you the cycle route through the war museum in Overloon and the cycle tour to remember that we have lived in freedom for 70 years.
The cycle bridge was admired by many people who came to have a look, also the day I visited it to film. This stunning new bridge will become a new icon of Oirschot and an extra reason to cycle there for many people from now on.
My video report about the bridge.
Crossing the bridge in both directions.
A ride from north to south in 360 degrees.