As It Happens

Why the Netherlands is building a $10M bridge for cyclists, pedestrians — and bats

Construction began this week on the Blawe Loper in the Netherlands, which is poised to be Europe's longest cycling bridge.

At 800 metres, the Blauwe Loper aims to be Europe’s longest cycling bridge

The Blauwe Loper — shown here in an artist's rending from a video on the village of Blauwestad's YouTube page — is poised to be the longest cycling bridge in Europe. (Blawestad/YouTube)

The Netherlands will soon be home to the longest cyclist bridge in Europe. 

Construction began this week on the Blauwe Loper — or Blue Carpet — bridge. It will connect Winschoten, in Groningen province, with Blauwestad, crossing over a lake, a canal, a highway and a nature reserve.

The bridge will be 800 metres long, and could possibly be extended to one kilometre.

As it Happens host Carol Off spoke to Fleur Graper, the regional minister of infrastructure and mobility in Groningen. Here is part of their conversation.

This is not a bridge for cars, is it?

No, it's just for cyclists. But you can walk on it as well, so it's a pedestrian crossing as well. 

I can imagine that it feels a little bit awkward coming from your side of the ocean, but for us, it's quite common to have separate bike roads and separate bike bridges.

But this is not just for cyclists and for pedestrians. This is what caught our attention. It's designed, as well, for bats. Why is that, and how is that?

What we see all over the country is that bats use infrastructure as a guiding point for going from one site to another site.

What we have seen, particularly on this spot, is that the colonies of bats are travelling up and down and, therefore, we really designed the bridge as well to make it as bat friendly as possible.

So we're using a special coloured lightning on the bridge as well as we used special items on the bridge to make sure that this corridor for bats is as friendly as possible.

Now I thought that bats could sense things through echolocation. How is it that they could see the painted green or the LED lights?

They use their echo system to navigate, but they are very light sensitive as well. Of course, they are really a night animal and by having bright lights around them, they get confused and they get disoriented.

By using special lights — lighting with a little bit of a different colour, or different settings or different reflections on the bridge — it helps them to have a feeling that it is night indeed and at the same time having lighting for the bicycle riders ... as well.

It is quite a lot of money, but it's still a lot cheaper than if everyone were driving around.- Fleur Graper, regional minister for infrastructure and mobility in Groningen

This bridge is going to cost nearly $10 million Cdn. For cyclists, for pedestrians and for bats. What's been the reaction in your region and your province to that price tag?

People say it's quite a lot of money, but as soon as you ... have a crossing somewhere, it's always more expensive.

But having this kind of investment is still a lot less than the investments you need to do for car travelling. So by investing in all these different bike paths and bike bridges, we see that more and more people are using their bikes for work or for recreational purposes.

So, yes, it's quite a lot of money, but it's still a lot cheaper than when everyone would be driving around.

It's not just for recreation. What commuting could be done on this bridge?

On one side of the highway we are now building a new suburb ... and we are seeing a lot of people who start living there go to the city ... of Winschoten for their groceries or for their jobs and they can only go by car.

They can do so by bike, but it's not a very bike friendly route.  … So by building this bridge, we really connect the city of Winschoten with this new suburb.

But also for the people from Winschoten it's a good way to go to this new suburb. Because the suburb is built along a new lake. It's very recreational as well a nature reserve.

It has a dual purpose.

It's to be the longest cycling bridge in Europe. Not the longest in the world, [which] apparently is in China. That one is 7½ kilometres long. Quite extraordinary. So would you expect that tourists will come and say, "I'm going to ride on the longest cycling bridge in Europe"?

Probably. It's going to be a very nice bridge. We really looked into all kinds of ..  ways to make it environment friendly as well, so it's going to be a wooden bridge. So I can imagine that it is very interesting for a lot of tourists to come over as well and see it.

But our main purpose is really just as a traffic purpose for the people living there. 

Written by Stephen Viti. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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