An award winning cycling bridge in Antwerp

Every now and then I visit cities across the border for my blog. This time we’re revisiting Antwerp. I last published about this Belgian city when I had visited it just before the Covid crisis hit Europe, early March 2020. I was quite positive about cycling in Antwerp in my city portrait. In the post and video (published in April 2020) I wrote: “For the locals there may still be many things that need to be changed to further improve the cycling climate, but in general cycling in Antwerp is already very attractive.” When I returned this summer one major improvement had been finished: the missing ramp of the Park Bridge for walking and cycling had finally been constructed! Something the cyclists in Antwerp had waited for, for over 5 years!

This access ramp to the Antwerp Parkbrug was opened in December 2021, over 5 years after the main part of the bridge was opened in July 2016!

The Parkbrug, over the busy main arterial “Italiëlei”, was the topic of a design competition in 2006. It took seven years to come to a final design and ten years before it could be opened in July 2016. However, at the time, an access ramp on the west side wasn’t even part of the design. The west access had stairs with grooves and there was a lift. In the local newspapers people complained about this situation. The bicycle elevator, the “conveyor belt system” in one of the grooves, to get your bicycle up the stairs easier, was not really appreciated and the lift was often out of order.

The 67-metre-long main span of the Parkbrug over the busy road Italiëlei in Antwerp.
It was all about cars on the Italiëlei before the reconstruction that took several years. This StreetView picture is from 2010. The reconstruction took place roughly between 2017 and 2020.
On the StreetView picture from 2020 we can see the Park Bridge in the distance. The three lanes on the right hand side have been transformed into more space for walking and cycling and in the central median of the road there is now a tram line. Unfortunately, the existing trees could not be spared, but new trees were planted.

In June 2017, the final design for the access ramp was officially accepted. Later that year, in September, the bridge won the “Footbridge award 2017” in Berlin, in a competition organised by the magazine “Bridge design & Engineering”. The jury was impressed by the 67-metre-long main span of the bridge. They wrote:

A simple yet very effective solution which creates an interesting crossing for users even though it is fully enclosed. The jury found it hugely impressive that a box girder on this scale could be made without any u-frame, web or diaphragm stiffener. Very clever design and aesthetically strong.

Then we don’t hear much about the ramp, until one-and-a-half years later, in January 2019, local media report that the works for the ramp are going to start. Yet, in my last video about Antwerp, shot well over a year later, nothing could be seen on site. Apparently, the prefabricated elements of the bridge were supposed to be constructed at the time. The newspaper said that the bridge would be opened late 2020, but the only sign that something was about to happen here, a banner on the bridge, on which it said that the ramp would be opened in the summer of 2020. Neither proved to be true.

Early 2020, a banner at the location of where the ramp onto the Park Bridge would be built stated: “Now under construction, but ready close to the summer of 2020”. It was to be December 2021. Incomprehensible to a Dutch person, but my Belgian readers predicted this delay when I mentioned this in my video of April 2020.
The design of the access ramp to the Park Bridge by Ney + Partners. The existing bridge is also on this picture. The structure of the ramp and its pillars are well aligned with the structural grid of the underground car parking garage that this ramp is directly on top of.

In January 2021, exactly two years after the building was supposed to have started the works did finally start. The Covid crisis is to blame for the delays, the story goes. But some elements were finally and carefully placed on the construction of the underground parking garage directly under the new ramp of the bridge. That parking garage is also the reason for the extremely light and slender design of the ramp. The opening of the ramp is now planned for May 2021. But then there are new delays, now supposedly due to bad weather. That apparently prevents placing the prefabricated elements. When the papers ask about the progress, in September 2021, Antwerp’s alderman for mobility is reported to say that the “finishing of the bridge has indeed been delayed, but the opening of the ramp is foreseen for later in the year.”

One of the pillars the access ramp sits on. Also clearly visible how thin the deck is. That is to make the bridge lighter because it sits on the top of the underground car parking garage.
People using the bridge at night. There are LED lights integrated in the outside railing of the bridge.

Then finally, in December 2021, the ramp was opened! A reporter describes it as the “longexpected ramp of the Park Bridge”. The article continues:  “It is no longer necessary to push your bicycle up the stairs or wait for the lifts (when they were not out of order): finally, the ramp of the Park Bridge is ready to be used.” Alderman for Mobility Koen Kennis is reported to be the first to ride down the ramp. He was very pleased the bridge was finally finished. “The Antwerp city council doesn’t like to deliver half work, but in this case, you could truly call it a job half done. It was one of the first complaints I got when I started as an alderman, that you couldn’t cycle from the bridge to groud level. The stairs were far from ideal. A different solution had to be found: which is this ramp. Many hundreds of people pass here daily on their bicycles, on an important cycle route between the north and the centre of the city. Their route improves dramatically. This was a real missing link that we now took care of.”

Not only did it take three years longer to build the bridge access, according to the newspaper Nieuwsblad the steel ramp also became much more expensive. In the end the ramp has cost €2.5 million, 50% over budget.

A video portrait of the bridge and its new access ramp.
My rides over the entire bridge and its access ramp in both directions and in daylight and in the dark.

The Netherlands has a few cycling bridges that do not have cyclable ramps. Most notably the Hoge brug in Maastricht and the Moreelsebrug in Utrecht.

3 thoughts on “An award winning cycling bridge in Antwerp

  1. I’ve been eagerly awaiting your next post wondering whether you would mention autumn leaves on the fietspad. Are they a problem? How is it addressed?

  2. ” There is simply not enough space on both sides, explains Jubbe van der Heide of the municipality of Utrecht. A maximum gradient of four percent applies to cyclists. ,,To achieve that, it takes such a long run-up that you end up halfway through the Croeselaan. Moreover, it is unattractive for walkers.”

    There is too little space for a spiral run-up; part of Rabobank would have to be demolished. The same applies on the other side of the track. ”

    Since you want to bring up the bridge in Utrecht what do you suggest?

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