All about cycling in the Netherlands
The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch has an elegant bridge for walking and cycling. It connects the historic city centre to the first expansion outside the mediaeval city. The design goes so well with its surroundings that the bridge was instantly loved and people have the feeling it has always been there.
To be perfectly clear, the bridge has indeed been there for quite a while now. I have such a long list of topics for blog posts that some of the material I film is on the shelf for months, or in this case close to two years. The new Maria bridge was opened in February 2016. But I still think it is interesting to look at how it came to be and what the ideas behind the design were.
The old Maria bridge had to be replaced, because the early 1950s concrete of the former bridge was decaying. The concrete was so damaged that there was a genuine risk that the structural integrity of the bridge was lost, so it had to be closed to the public. The bridge is a vital connection between the historic city centre and the oldest neighbourhood outside the original fortification, which includes the main railway station of ’s-Hertogenbosch. That meant a replacement bridge had to be designed quickly, but fortunately that doesn’t show in the actual bridge. The architect of the bridge was Syb van der Ploeg & Co. A name that you could read on my blog in an earlier post. This company also designed the spectacular cycle bridge in Zoetermeer.
The architects designed a seemingly arched concrete bridge with brick cladding. This design blends in nicely with the surroundings. Notably the brick buildings of the Mariënburg convent and the brick walls of the Capuchins monastery at opposite sides of river Dommel, which is ’s-Hertogenbosch’ former city moat. The exposed remains of the city wall are also in the same red brick. The nearest other bridges on either side are also arched brick bridges, so the design is a reference to both those bridges as well.
The clear lines of the steel parapet enhance the illusion of an arch in a very elegant way. The hard wood hand rail hides a strip of LED-lighting that should have been vandalism-proof. It faces downward, so the many birds and bats living in the surroundings are not harmed by extra light. The river Dommel flows quite deep below street level. The slender design made it possible, even with a completely level bridge, to create enough clearance for the ships that use the river. The clear lines of the design are not interrupted by pillars. Contrary to the former bridge, this new bridge has only one span of 36.5 metres.
Construction started in October 2015 and went rather smoothly. The concrete abutments were created on site, but most other materials were pre-fabricated. The only small problem during construction was caused by the transport of the almost 37 metres long I-shaped concrete beams. They were fabricated in Germany and when they were transported to the Netherlands the truck driver took a wrong turn. The German police stopped the transport, now outside a designated route for heavy goods. The German authorities forced the convoy to return and the beams were once again back at the factory. This caused a delay of about one week. The following weekend the beams were transported again, this time via the designated route, and the delay could be made up in the later building process. The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch had a budget of 540,000 euro for this bridge. In February 2016 the bridge for walking and cycling could be opened for the public.
This is the third bridge at this location. The first bridge was opened in 1907. It was a wooden footbridge that connected the then new housing area just outside the historic city centre to that centre. The wooden bridge did not survive World War II, but it took until 1953 before a new bridge was opened. This second concrete bridge did get a separate cycleway and this was the bridge that was now replaced.
I would love to use this bridge to walk to the railway station. But I normally don’t, because I would then have to cross the Julianaplein roundabout that has no footways on the most logical side. If I were to use the official walk-route around the roundabout I would have to walk such a long detour that the entire advantage is lost. If the city would build a good pedestrian crossing at the north side of Julianaplein the Maria bridge would become even more valuable for many people walking to the station.
About a year after it was opened the LED-lighting of the bridge proved not so vandalism-proof as everybody had hoped. One morning in March 2017, half of the LED-lighting was found to have been taken out of the railing and it was removed from the site. It was not entirely clear whether this was vandalism or theft. A spokesperson for the city reported that the city was stunned that this could have happened: “considerable force must have been used and special tools, but we will repair everything!”
The Mariabrug is a great little bridge that many people use on a daily basis.
Location of the bridge on Google Maps.
My video about the Maria Bridge in ʼs-Hertogenbosch.