Going Metro and Greening Riyadh
Hello and welcome to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! Riyadh is a city built in the middle of the Arabian desert, it is dusty, beige and HOT (especially in the summer!) But, undeterred by the harsh conditions, the authorities have decided to turn it into a living, breathing, blooming beautiful garden – and greenery is sprouting everywhere!
The Green Riyadh Project has been launched with the aim of making it one of the world’s top 100 most livable cities.
Not somewhere to do things by halves the project will see 75 million trees planted, the creation of 43 major parks with the biggest larger than Central Park, together with 3,300 smaller parks and gardens dotted around the city.
Massive landscaping is already being carried out with date palms are being planted along all major routes, and legislation has been introduced requiring all new buildings, including mosques, schools, public facilities, airports etc to incorporate planting schemes.
It is the largest afforestation project in the world, and will use treated wastewater for the new green spaces. It’s projected to reduce the temperature in the city by 1.5 to 2 degrees in the summer, making it more live-able and encouraging people outside to enjoy the new spaces and take exercise (part of another initiative to get Saudi’s active!).
There’s a huge road intersection not far from where we live, it’s a vast area, maybe the size of four football pitches. Until recently it was a real eyesore, piles of rubble strewn with empty plastic bags and bottles. There were some small stumpy trees but their branches were tangled with plastic bags, but it has been cleared and a huge earthmoving project is underway with stone walls and terraces being built ahead of new planting and lighting – and maybe even a water feature? Who knows, anything is possible!
Everywhere you go in Riyadh there are new metro lines being built overground and underground. Snaking all over the city the new metro system is planned to introduce a new connected public transport system.
Currently the car is king – Riyadh is built on an American grid system which favors the car, which together with low oil prices and an oppressive heat making being outside uncomfortable for any length of time for at least five months of the year, means people want door-to-door travel in an air conditioned car – so until recent times, public transport has not been a priority.
However, with a rapidly rising population, increasing traffic congestion and concerns around air pollution a new metro and interlinked bus network has been taking shape.
Work started on the Riyadh Metro in 2014. It will cover 176km, with 6 city-wide lines, 85 stations, plus a 1,900km interlinking bus network with 3,000 stops – and it’s all being constructed at the same time!!
Estimated to cost $24.4billion, it was due to open last year (2020), but has faced a number of delays including the pandemic. It’s getting closer though, and it’s now commonplace to see the odd little metro train trundling along the line nearest to us on a test run.
The extensive nature of the network and the fact it’s being built all at once has meant years of road diversions and closures across Riyadh. Generally there’s no prior warning when a road will be closed, which can lead to huge tailbacks and some very frustrated drivers and passengers – I watched once from our office window as cars backed up at a major road junction when one of the roads was closed without warning. A cacophony of horns erupted until one driver got out of his car and took it upon himself to start directing the traffic – (which he did really well!) Thankfully most of the road disruption is over now that the main infrastructure is in place.
It’s hoped the metro will cut down on some of the 10 million car journeys taken every day in Riyadh and reduce the 7-9,000 annual death toll…
And that’s a wrap for this short series of ‘What’s New in KSA’ blogs. They’ve been fun to write and reflect on how much things have changed in the three years since we arrived here.
It’s a rapidly changing city and nation – who knows how much it will have changed again in another three years’ time?
Until next time, stay cool!