The Cycling Bridge and Promenade sections of Riyadh’s Sports Boulevard, the longest linear park in history, is due to open this year.
The boulevard is one of four megaprojects launched in March 2019 by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Together, they are intended to make the Saudi capital one of the world’s top 10 most liveable cities.
The project will create the park from a pylon-dominated utility corridor running east to west through the city.
It will connect Riyadh’s main valleys – Wadi Hanifah in the west and Wadi Al Sulai in the east – and transform them into a grid of green pathways for pedestrians, cyclists, runners and horse-riders.
Work on the scheme began in October 2021.
When fully complete in 2027, the boulevard will extend over 4.4 million sq m of green and open space.
There will be more than 50 sports facilities, 220km of cycling routes, 135km of walking and running trails and nearly 100km of equestrian trails.
There will also be some 2.3 million sq m of investment opportunities for the private sector.
The development will be divided into eight districts, including ecological, entertainment and “sand sports” areas, and these will feature a number of architectural highlights.
In the Arts District, these will include an amphitheatre, performance spaces and art exhibition areas; there will also be designated investment zones for retail and real estate. There will also be a range of outdoor spaces that can be used year-round, where Riyadh’s 7.7 million people can socialise.
The Sports Boulevard Foundation (SBF) has awarded contracts worth more than $660m to several Saudi firms for the construction of roads, bridges and infrastructure at the Wadi Hanifah, the Promenade and the Art District sections.
In December 2023, the Sports Boulevard entered a strategic partnership with Ajdan Real Estate Development and Al Bilad Investment fund to finance a mixed-use project in the Sports Boulevard’s vibrant Art District. As well as the theatres and exhibition space, this part of the boulevard will have homes, shops, cafés and restaurants.
Altogether it will cover more than 20,000 sq m and include a built-up area exceeding 120,000 sq m. It will also have about 60,000 sq m of leasable space.
The SBF told GCR that the main difficulties the project team had to overcome was the initial disruption caused to local communities, but that the team made it a priority to keep them engaged and informed.
It commented: “Given the city-wide scope of the project, it’s challenging to manage existing utilities, including the removal of electrical overhead towers and cables, to ensure they don’t clash with the boulevard’s infrastructure. To mitigate this risk, our contractors mapped out the location of existing utilities and cables so we could incorporate this into our planning.
“We are also in the process of building three underpasses to enhance the flow of traffic around the city and create continuous pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s important that those whose lives we briefly disrupt understand just how transformative and beneficial the infrastructure and the project more broadly will be for years to come.”
The SBF added that the project would have an impact on every section of Riyadh’s social fabric. It said: “The project will establish a lasting economic influence through the creation of jobs, businesses and heightened economic activity. By using technology combined with the latest urban planning techniques, the Sports Boulevard will transform Riyadh into a smart city that responds to the needs of its residents, both now and in the future.”
The project is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy and its Quality of Life programmes.