What used to be the city’s river port is now a redeveloped area with a park, shops and apartments. A – what the newspapers called – spectacular bridge was built to open the area for cycling and walking. However, the more exclusive the bridge, the more striking it is when your maintenance is not adequate. Let’s have a look at the 7-year-old Weerdsprong bridge for walking and cycling in Venlo.
In 2008, the municipality of Venlo commissioned a bridge for walking and cycling spanning its marina. Until the late 1960s this area had been the city’s port where freight ships docked and where many warehouses could be found. One of the islands in the river Maas (Meuse) had become a peninsula and it was used as a car park. Compared to that time everything changed! That peninsula is completely green now. People can sit on the grass slopes with views of the river or the city. The so called Maas boulevard has been redeveloped with shops and housing. One of the buildings is a 20 floor residential tower, quite an unusual height for this region in the south-east of the Netherlands. Venlo is right at the border and draws a lot of day-trip visitors from Germany, especially on holidays in Germany that are normal working days in the Netherlands. The also new marina got that bridge for walking and cycling.
There had been a competition to design a new bridge for this location, during the course of which official entries from design companies turned out to be competing with children’s drawings… Much to the shock of some of the professional designers the latter won prices too. Fortunately, two very serious bridges were presented to the public in 2009. Over 2,600 people voted in an internet survey and 70% of them chose the bridge that was now built. At the same time a name was chosen and from 1,400 entries the name Weerdsprong – which literally means “Ait (or Island) Leap” – was the winner. A reference that this is a connection to the former river island, now peninsula.
The bridge was opened in 2012 and it was hailed as a “spectacular bridge”. It combines a classic arch in modern pre-fabricated white concrete with state of the art lighting features in the self-supporting glass railing. Designing company ipv Delft explains that the arched supports are a subtle reminder of the city’s Roman heritage. The bridge had cost roughly 2 million euro.
The bridge deck slopes since the city side is on a much higher level than the peninsula. Thanks to the length of 77 metres, the slope is not too steep. The deck is 5.5 metres wide. A bit wider than the traffic volume would require, but the bridge was also meant to make people linger here. They are encouraged to stay and have a look around in the marina and enjoy the city and river landscape view. That was exactly what people were doing on the day I filmed. A lot of people used the bridge to get from the shopping area to the recreational area and vice versa. It was very striking that the more people talked in German on the bridge the less they understood which part was which. The widest part was widely understood to be the part for cycling when most pedestrians spoke Dutch. It was evident that most German speakers assumed the widest part would be for walking. There is a lot of cultural difference in these neighbouring countries when it comes to how they use the public space. That was also visible in the number of cars which were parked where that is not allowed in the Netherlands. To a Dutch eye Germans do not adhere to parking restrictions very well. Something that is completely different in the Netherlands where wrongly parked cars are much sooner fined and towed away at high cost. It proved to be a bit different in Venlo where no tickets were issued that day as far as I could tell. Venlo tries to pamper its German visitors. I remember that Dutch people had to be very careful on roundabouts here in the 1980s, because Venlo was the only Dutch city where traffic on the roundabouts had priority. The city used the German traffic rules for roundabouts, not the Dutch. (These rules have been harmonised since, thanks to the European Union). Apparently the city thought it would be more effective and safer to have the Dutch residents change their behaviour than the German visitors.
The eye catching feature of the bridge is its lighting at night. The handrail has integrated led lighting. The glass in the railing is fitted with a honeycomb silk screen print that allows the light from the handrail above to spread out evenly across the glass railing panels. Designer ipv Delft reports that they have designed several lighting programs for the bridge: “Each season the colour scheme can be different. It is also possible to adjust the lighting for special occasions or events.”
Unfortunately, especially those glass panels have suffered over the years. It has somehow been possible for people to make scratches and markings in the glass, or perhaps its screen cover, and from close up it looks awful. On top of that the white concrete has proved to be a magnet for graffiti. Other maintenance was done poorly as well, the waste bins were all overflowing. It is never enough to build something beautiful, you do have to take good care of it too. This is apparently not always done in the way it is needed at this location. It would be good if Venlo repaired the bridge and improves its maintenance. If you want to redevelop a former port into a stylish new area for shopping and recreation you need to invest in keeping it at that high quality, even in a municipality like Venlo with some financial problems. The great urban design and the stylish bridge deserve nothing less.
My video for this week: the Weersprong bridge in Venlo.
A ride on the bridge.
Borghert Jan Borghmans, who grew up in Venlo, tweeted a picture of how the riverside road looked in the 1980s. What a difference!