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 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 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.
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”.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.