Transformative Urban Development Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Marc Bartsch BTRP M.L.Arch RPIA RLA

Since the delivery of the presentation ‘Public Transport Revolution: The Making of Place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’ in Brisbane in 2015, work on the Riyadh Metro has continued at a rapid pace, and by early 2017 most of the required tunnelling is complete. At the surface, throughout the city there are numerous access shafts and structures which will provide for station access.

Marc Bartsch

The disruption to the already chaotic traffic of testosterone fuelled Riyadh (remember only men can drive, badly) is not really evident. A few advertisements in the city newspapers was the sum of the public consultation, and word of mouth provided the rest, so that the traffic funnels its way around the extensive barriers and obstacles.

The fate of pedestrians, which are a significant proportion of the over 6,000 deaths on the road per annum in Saudi (one every hour), continues to remain less important. Pedestrian crossings across the station sites are limited to a sign, and the priority is maintained for vehicles which for someone on foot requires breath-taking accuracy and fitness to achieve a crossing.  When the reconstructed roads and “public” domain along the metro route are completed based on the German precision of the Albert Speer and Partners design guidelines (more akin to a design manual which forms part of the design and construct process), the opportunities for pedestrians will improve dramatically.

The new metro will truly recalibrate the footprint for urban development with a hierarchy of centres now focussed on a public transport, rather than based on the floor space of a free-standing retail box set within a sea of car-parking. It will also facilitate shared use of a transport mode in a society with strictly gender segregated shopping and entertainment areas, and transport modes (the new metro will have family only carriages however). There are many critics of the social and political structure of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, however as a country transformed by the discovery and exploitation of oil, the commitment to the delivery of public transport has provided the opportunity for a new agenda in city design.

The current LA style arrangement of regularly choked freeways will be given some relief, and recast the city as a place more accessible for those who don’t own a car or who can’t drive. Ironically the ban on women being able to drive (enforced car-pooling) while acknowledged by the west as undemocratic and sexist ,has probably saved Riyadh from complete extinction by traffic congestion. The advent of twenty first century public transportation accessible to all, and which does not come to a standstill after prayer, gives the city a fresh and welcome start.

Marc was Senior Planner and Advisor to the Metropolitan Planning and Urban Design Department, of the Arriyadh Development Authority, KSA in 2014 and involved in the team responsible for a number of Transit Orientated Development planning projects to accompany the $25 billion metro which is currently under construction.


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