The debate on a bridge to North Amsterdam is hotting up. Is a bridge feasible, should it take cars, will it replace the ferries, will it mean paying a fare on the ferries? Emotions are rising as capacity of the ferries stretches to breaking point, now that Amsterdammers, day-trippers and tourists are discovering the North Shore. It’s a good sign…in a way.
‘Over de Brug’ exhibition at Museum Amsterdam Noord 1 Feb – 24 March
For centuries North Amsterdam was only accessible by boat. And the name of the Tolhuis and the Tolhuistuin bear witness to an age that you had to pay to pass this watery barrier. The first and up to now only bridge over the IJ was built in 1957 to the east of the city at Schellingwoude. It took almost a decade before the first tunnels came The Coen Tunnel in1966 and the IJ Tunnel in 1968. Amsterdam’s ringroad, the A10, was only completed in 1990 with the building of the Zeeburg Tunnel. The origins of the Dam to Dam race from Amsterdam and Zaandam lie in a protest against the poor connections between the two cities in spite of their proximity. Before the Schellingwoude bridge and the tunnels, the only connection to the city was the Oranje Sluis in Schellingwoude built in 1872. One of my late elderly neighbours told me she used to cross the lock to get to school when she was a young girl.
We love and we hate the ferries. If you think they are crowded now, take a look at old photos, which show long queues of workers lining up to take the overcrowded boats. Author Jan Donkers wrote in his book Zo Dicht bij Amsterdam: “It was in my secondary school years, that the IJ was my enemy, a geographic barrier, a far too visible symbol of what held me back back then – because that is how I saw it.”
Last year, I spoke to 81-year old Harry Sablerolle, who has been petitioning for a bridge almost all his life. He told me about the one and only time North was connected to the city centre, at the end of the World War II. The lack of fuel meant there were few ships on the River IJ and there was not enough fuel to run the ferries. A bridge of ferries connected to each other was made across the water so people could cross. He called it “the happiest time of his life” because he could just walk to the other side. The only time this has been done since then was last year. The army built a pontoon bridge to shut off the river for the River Parade after the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander. But no-one was allowed to cross it.
North Amsterdam used to be a bit of a dumping ground for the city, so the city council was never really interested a permanent connection. Now that north is becoming more trendy, the issue of a bridge is becoming more urgent. But it is not a topic that leaves people cold. Luc Harings’ article The Bridge over the IJ on Ilovenoord.nl was shared more than 2000 times on facebook and prompted dozens of responses. The possibility of a bridge is the subject of an upcoming debate in Pakhuis de Zwijger. I daresay the house will be packed and anything but silent.
It’s taken almost 200 years of planning for a bridge to be taken seriously by the city council, every time it was a bridge too far. But there are many advantages to a bridge. It would be another economic impulse to North’s burgeoning creative industries. It’s cheaper than a tunnel or the so-far incomplete metro link. According to Flip van den Bergh of Luchttunel.nl It could be a landmark for the capital, like the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, the Brandenburg Gate. And in that case it would definitely attract more tourists. But most of all it would remove not only a physical but also a psychological barrier and finally connect North Amsterdam to the rest of the city. Jolijn Valk writes on her website: “A bridge is a site where everything comes together…” . She may be right.Over de Brug‘ exhibition at Museum Noord Amsterdam 1 Feb – 24 March
Zamenhofstraat 28 A (next to Bredero School Meeuwenlaan)
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Read also: Muzing on the ferry over the river IJ