They were meant to be futuristic marvels, allowing thrill-seeking tourists to feel like they were walking on air.
But China’s growing obsession with glass bridges may be coming to an abrupt end, after a series of accidents led one province to close down all its glass-bottomed attractions.
Hebei, a scenic mountainous province in northern China, has quietly closed all 32 of its glass bridges, walkways and mountain viewing platforms over the past year for safety reasons, according to Chinese state media CCTV.
Among the attractions that have been closed is Hongyagu glass bridge, which until recently held the title of the world’s longest glass bridge. Not for the faint-hearted, or for those with any whiff of vertigo, the glass structure stretches 488 metres between two steep cliffs and is paved with more than a thousand panels of glass.
Another Hebei glass attraction that has been closed is the East Taihang Glasswalk mountain walkway, notorious for striking fear into the hearts of visitors with a special-effect glass floor that appears, falsely, to shatter when it is stood upon.
The decision to close dozens of bridges comes after a series of accidents, including at least two deaths, across China that have called the safety of glass structures into question. In Guangxi province this year, a glass slide became lethal after rainfall led a man to crash into the railing when going down and fall over the side. He died from severe head injuries, while six others were injured. There have also been reports of tourists being hit on a glass bridge by flying debris.
In August 2016, the world’s highest and longest glass walkway opened to great fanfare, linking two cliffs in central Hunan province in China’s spectacular Zhangjiajie mountains – the inspiration for the Hollywood film Avatar. But the vast glass structure, which stretches 430m long and is made of 99 panels of glass, was open for just 13 days before being shut for an “urgent upgrade” after it could not handle the weight of all the visitors. The bridge had been built to hold 8,000 visitors a day, but demand exceeded that tenfold.
It followed a huge publicity campaign to demonstrate the safety of the glass bridge, which included people being encouraged to try and smash the bridge’s panels with a sledgehammer, and another stunt where a car was driven across the Zhangjiajie bridge.
The Chinese government has now called on authorities to carry out comprehensive safety checks on all glass structures, but it could be a momentous task, with an estimated 2,300 glass bridges alone in China, as well as more glass walkways and slides.