BICYCLE DUTCH

All about cycling in the Netherlands

A new bridge for walking and cycling in Utrecht

Utrecht can be proud of yet another fine new piece of infrastructure for walking and cycling. The “Moreelsebrug” was opened on 16 December last. The slender 295-metre-long bridge is a welcome new possibility to cross the railroad. Something you couldn’t do for about 1.6 kilometres right in the city centre of Utrecht.

The new Moreelsebrug looking east, in the direction of the historic city centre of Utrecht. Picture courtesy of Leon van Woerkom, Cepezed Architects.

The new Moreelsebrug on the opening day, looking east, in the direction of the historic city centre of Utrecht. Picture courtesy of Leon van Woerkom, Cepezed Architects.

The bridge had the working title “Rabobrug” after the bank that has its headquarters right next to the west landing. Rabobank was the driving force behind this bridge. In 2001, the bank donated 20 million Guilders (9 million euro) to the city of Utrecht to investigate and construct a bridge. The main objective for the bank was to give its employees a way to get to the historic Utrecht city centre east of the railway tracks in their lunch breaks. The total costs for the bridge were about 15 million euro. The rest of the amount was shared by the Ministry of Transport and the municipality of Utrecht.

The bridge is beautifully lit at night.

The bridge is beautifully lit at night.

The construction of the bridge was delayed by several years, mainly because there was fierce opposition to projected stairs from the platforms of Utrecht Central Station to the bridge. That would give passengers an alternative way to get to and from the station platforms, bypassing the new Station Hall and the Utrecht mall and thus bypassing all the new shops there. The mall owner feared a loss of income and went to court. The court has ruled that the 1970s agreements with the city of Utrecht stating all passenger routes must go past their shops aren’t future proof. When passenger volumes increase, alternative routes may be created for the safety of people. The bridge has now been built without those stairs, but they can be added any time. The bridge was completely designed to include such stairs. As it is now, the bridge offers a much better connection to the people living and working west of the railway to the centre east of the railways. There had never been a possibility to cross the railways for a distance of 1.6 kilometres (1 mile). The bridge connects to the redesigned Mariaplaats, the entrance to the historic Utrecht city centre. The area in which the bridge was built is used intensively. It is almost a miracle that the bridge could be squeezed in at all. There is a downside to that: there was absolutely no room to build cyclable ramps. Instead, the bridge has stairs with a groove for bicycles and elevators for people who cannot or do not want to push their bicycles up the stairs. The agency overseeing the Utrecht Station area reconstruction, CU2030, has calculated how long a cyclable ramp would have had to be for this bridge. The deck is at a height of 8.25 metres, but the street on the west side is a bit higher up, which leaves a difference of 6.5 metres. Dutch regulations allow an incline of 4%, meaning you need 100 metres for every 4 metres of height difference. There must also be level parts in any sloping ramp. Resulting in a west ramp that would have had to be 162.5 metres. The beginning of the bridge is only 135 metres from the main road that it connects to. So there was not enough room on the west side. On the east side, there is even less space.

A map of the new bridge. It is clearly visible how little space there was for this bridge. Especially on the east side (right on the picture). Picture courtesy of the municipality of Utrecht.

A map of the new bridge. It is clearly visible how little space there was for this bridge. Especially on the east side (right on the picture). Picture courtesy of the municipality of Utrecht.

Although some people complain about the stairs, others see advantages as well. “I don’t really mind. This will mean a whole lot less nuisance of scooters on the bridge.” People who have already tried the bridge are also mild. Ms Stapelkamp (69) said to a news reporter “You have to push a little, that’s true”, but her verdict: “It’s fine”.

Ths bridge as it was built now, without stairs to the platforms of Utrecht Central station.

The bridge as it was built now, without stairs to the platforms of Utrecht Central station.

In future the stairs can be added very easily. The design has always included those stairs.

In future the stairs can be added very easily. The design has always included those stairs.

There is a separate part for walking and cycling on the bridge deck, clearly indicated by signs. The width of the cycleway on the south side of the bridge is 3.6 metres, the footway is exactly that width on the north side. The rest of the 10-metre-wide bridge is a central strip that has a line of 17 trees. These trees (Persian Iron Wood trees) were specifically grown to thrive here. Already in the tree nursery in Limburg they were grown in shallow boxes,  so the roots have developed in a way that is perfectly suited for a life on the bridge.

The design of the bridge is completely prepared for the stairs to the platforms.

The bridge is completely ready for adding the stairs to the platforms at a later time.

The material of the bridge is steel. The bridge parts as well as the V-shaped legs were constructed in a steel factory in Friesland. BSB Staalbouw is the same company that made the parts for the steel bridge in Zoetermeer that I showed you before.

The construction in a steel factory in Friesland. Picture courtesey of .. steel.

The construction of one of the bridge decks (upside down) in a steel factory in Friesland. Picture courtesy of BSB Staalbouw.

A huge crane was needed to place the legs and the deck parts, because of the long distance from where a crane could be set up. One of the largest cranes available, a 144-metre-tall crane nicknamed “the beast”, was used. Train traffic had to be partially stopped for several weekends to place the parts in a safe way. The final bridge decks were placed in October 2016.

The railroad could not be crossed for a distance of 1.6 km or 1 mile on a bicycle. Pedestrians could use the station to cross the tracks. In red the new Moreelsebrug. (Map: Openstreetmap with my additions.)

The railroad tracks could not be crossed for a distance of about 1.6 km or 1 mile on a bicycle (nor by motor traffic). Pedestrians could use the station to cross the tracks. In red the new Moreelsebrug. (Map: Openstreetmap with my additions.)

The architect of the bridge is a Dutch firm called Cepezed. In true architect speak, they designed the bridge as “an elongated esplanade with a high level of user appeal and ambiance (…) embedded into the fabric of the city in a natural way”. To their delight the bridge already got attention abroad. A Canadian reporter of the Globe and Mail saw potential for such a bridge in Vancouver.

People have little trouble with the stairs. This elderly gentelman doesn't even stop talking on his phone while descending the bridge with his bicycle.

People have little trouble with the stairs. This elderly gentleman doesn’t even stop talking on his phone while descending the bridge with his bicycle.

I have used the bridge several times now and I really like it. The views from it are truly stunning. Using the stairs with the bicycle was very easy for me, even one-handed, while filming the ride/walk/ride. I was happy to notice that – apart from the opening day – people really look where they are going. There is a clearly defined space for walking and cycling. I would have preferred the cycling bit to have been red, but you can’t have everything. It was good to notice, that compared to the detour, this new bridge makes the crossing possible in less than half the time. What the bridge really lacks is some benches or anything to sit on. For a bridge that is meant to be “place” as well as infrastructure, that would have been a good idea.

In green the ride over the new bridge. In red the shortest alternative route by bicycle.

In green the ride over the new bridge in the first video (3:10m). In red the shortest alternative route by bicycle of the second video (6:27m), leading through the huge building site that is the Utrecht station area.

The stairs to the platforms must be built in my opinion and I am confident they will be built. Reading between the lines of what for instance the mayor of Utrecht said, I have the feeling a deal was made. First the station and the new mall have to be finished for a year or two and then, when everybody has grown accustomed to the new walking routes, the stairs can be built. The risk of losing too many customers is a lot smaller that way. Until then, the bridge is already a great new way to cross the Utrecht railway.

My video on the construction of the Moreelsebrug.

My video of the Moreelsebrug after it was opened.

A ride over the Moreelsebrug in Utrecht takes 3:10 minutes.

The shortest alternative to the Moreelsebrug is 6:27 minutes.

 

 

20 comments on “A new bridge for walking and cycling in Utrecht

  1. Steven Vance
    13 January 2017

    What was the total construction time of the bridge?

  2. Jk
    11 January 2017

    I’ve noticed that more cycling bridges are being built in recent years, both in The Netherlands and in Flemish Belgium. These bridges are futuristic in design and greatly add to the quality of life. They are fun to cycle on. In some cases you get a good view of the surrounding beautiful landscapes and you can see far distances due to the very flat land.

    Today I learned there will finally be a cycling bridge built over the IJ. This is the waterway that separates the northern peninsula of North Holland. This will be really nice as t will allow cyclists to travel 24/7 without the wait and the hassle of getting on and off the ferry.

  3. Pingback: Centraal and the Moreelsebrug | A Flamingo in Utrecht

  4. A.Roelandt
    4 January 2017

    Aan het begin en eind van het fietspad staan paaltjes.Waarom ? (Autoos ? 🙂

    • Erik
      5 January 2017

      Zodat de fietsers niet de trap missen.

  5. A.Roelandt
    4 January 2017

    Wat zouden de overwegingen zijn om geen banken cq stoelen te plaatsen ?

    • Niet A.Roelandt
      4 January 2017

      Bankjes zouden het een picknickplaats maken. Dat belemmert het verkeer, bijvoorbeeld als men even naar de rand van de brug loopt om het station te bekijken.

    • Erik
      5 January 2017

      Het is een transitieruimte, geen verblijfsruimte. Je wil ook niet dat het een vaste hangplek voor jongeren wordt die dan weer van alles naar beneden op de treinen gaan gooien.

  6. A.Roelandt
    4 January 2017

    En toch heb ik het vermoeden dat echt doorzetten en doordenken eventueel met “crowd idea forming” de brug met hellingen uitgerust had kunnen worden…paperclips spiralen etc etc.
    Nu is het weer een hindernisbaan voor fietsen ,waarom waarom ?

    Wel leuk is dat bv de stalling onder Vredenburg fietsgoten met assistentie heeft en borstels die afremmen en meteen de velgen schoonmaken!Geweldig!

    Merkwaardig te zien dat op de architectenfoto/ tekening erg veel voetgangers op het beoogde fietsgedeelte lopen!
    Wordt het een shared space gebied ?

    De vrouw met twee kindjes op de fiets schrok wel even van de trappen,zij had het geluk dat ik haar op de ietwat verstopte lift wees ,daar was ze wel blij mee 🙂

    Het wordt hoog tijd dat er echt vanuit de fiets gedacht gaat worden..

    De tijd zal leren of deze mooie brug een succes wordt.

  7. Koen
    3 January 2017

    What a sick system, in which someone with a lot of money can force train travellers for generations into walking through his shopping mall… of course that is not the only example where the majority is made to cater for the few.

    On a more positive note: very good article, Mark! A good beginning of this year. You’ve set the bar very high for yourself, as well as raised the standard for others, i think.

  8. Jonathan Hill
    3 January 2017

    I will have to visit this bridge during this year’s cycling trip to Holland

  9. Jim Moore
    3 January 2017

    Mark,
    Thanks for this post, so soon after the bridge was officially opened, which answers the question of “why stairs and not ramps?”, plus the usual full amount of background informatio and your own insights into the pragmatic deals that may have been done to get it built.

    I think this bridge is the clincher for me to make the long journey to visit the NL in 2017 to once again experience the magic in person.

    Cheers,
    Jim

  10. It looks like some of those children are new refugees (well, newly arrived). Would I be right?

    • Amar
      3 January 2017

      Utrecht is a very multicultural place and approx. 25% have of its population are from a non-Dutch background and 15% from a non-Western background. Also 65.000 students live in Utrecht. The kids you see in the video are from primary school ‘De Puntenburg’ and the school may reflect the demographic features of Utrecht.

      • Niet Amar
        4 January 2017

        Those kids more likely are children from “knowledge migrants” (foreigners with specific knowledge or skills for which demand outstrips supply). Refugees rarely live in the center of the city because living there is fairly expensive, so it is unlikely that their kids go to school there (that school is less than 100 meters from the city side of the bridge)

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