The bridge for cycling and walking across the river Meuse (Maas) in Maastricht has become a modern icon for the city in the 15 years it has existed. The arch of the bridge towers over the buildings and can be seen from far away, notably from the hills around the most southern city of the Netherlands.
The bridge is called ‘Hoge Brug’ in standard Dutch and ‘Hoeg Brögk’ in the local dialect. Both mean ‘Tall Bridge’ and that’s exactly what it is. The deck bridge is already 10 metres over the water of the River Meuse, but the top of the arch is at 26 metres over that water. The river Meuse is an important shipping route to Belgium, Germany and France. The waterway authority therefore demanded that ships would not be hindered by pillars. That is why the bridge has one giant span of 164 metres. The total length of the bridge, including the access stairs, is 261 metres. The bridge deck is 7.2 metres wide and has a clearly defined space for cycling and another for walking.
The bridge was opened in 2003. Three years after the death of the Belgian architect René Greisch, who designed it. The website of the architect’s bureau informs that the bridge has cost 5.3 million euros. That seems a bit on the low side for such a huge bridge, but maybe not all the costs, of placing the bridge for instance, were considered in that amount. I could not find any other reliable source for the cost, so this is the only information I have.
It is most unfortunate that this bridge has no ramps you can cycle onto. This is due to the considerable height of the bridge and the location. Cyclable ramps would have had to be so long, to prevent them becoming too steep, that there simply is no room. The bridge near the Central Station in Utrecht has the same issue. The Maastricht bridge connects the historic city centre west of the river Meuse with a redeveloped former factory terrain east of the river. Maastricht used to have a ceramics industry, producing table ware and sanitary ware, but also engineering and other types of ceramics. At this particular location the factory was called ‘Société Céramique’. This inspired the city to call the regenerated area: Céramique. On the city centre side, the stairs end in the park around the old city wall. On the other side the landing is at “Plein 1992”, or square 1992, named after the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992. The Dutch consider that treaty the birth of the single European currency, the euro, and consequently Maastricht its birthplace.
The bridge was constructed in Krimpen aan den IJssel, about 250 kilometres downstream from Maastricht. It was literally shipped to its final location in 48 hours. It was placed in just 8 hours on Saturday 16 August 2003. After it was finished on location, the opening took place on 18 December of that same year. The bridge was festively opened by the state secretary of Spatial Planning, an indication of how important and special the bridge was considered to be, when such a high-ranking official comes all the way from The Hague (also about 250km away) to do that.
This being a cycle bridge (as well as a bridge for walking), it is no surprise that people dislike the staircase. Not only the fact that there are stairs at all, but also the way the staircase was constructed. Calling the stairs gentle sounds too nice to some. The steps have a very deep tread combined with a very low riser, so people complain that they can’t take two steps at the time (because that is too far), but they hate making mini-steps of just about 5 cm per stair as well. I have the feeling that the people complaining are not the ones pushing a bicycle. Because when you are, it is very nice that the stairs aren’t too steep. It makes pushing your bicycle up a lot easier. As you can see in the video, most people don’t seem to have any problem getting their bicycle up. If you do have a problem with it, there are elevators at either end of the bridge. But I only saw children and elderly people using these elevators. Maybe the complaints about the stairs are a bit exaggerated. That one line about not being able to take two steps at the time stems from one article which was copied many times and the remark now appears all over the internet, including the Dutch Wikipedia page. Now I even translated it into English. Which may mean I only have made matters worse! Because these stairs really can’t be too bad, 2,500 cyclists use this bridge every day! Maybe people have also simply gotten used to the stairs after 15 years.
In 2004, the bridge won a National Steel Award, followed by a European Award in 2005. The Dutch jury praised the clean-cut design and the fact that just one slender arch supports the entire bridge, keeping up the deck with just 14 cables. Such a construction can only be built in steel, the verdict was. The European jury stated:
“This very nice bridge is a perfect example of the application of steel for bridge projects: a classical and elegant design combined in one large span leads to a total transparency of the bridge, allowing a very light and friendly impact on this historical area of Maastricht. This result was achieved very successfully thanks to an impressively fast erection system from a floating pontoon after a perfect off-site fabrication programme.”
In 2010, the bridge was closed for several months for elaborate maintenance. During that time the deck got a new top layer and the stair nosings were replaced. The entire bridge also got a new coat of paint. Enough to last about 8 years, they said back then. So that would mean it should be updated again around about this time, and indeed, the bridge could use a new coat of paint, the white is not exactly white anymore. We’ll have to see whether that gets done any time soon though.
This week’s video about the Maastricht “Tall Bridge” for walking and cycling.