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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.