King Abdullah Economic City redraws master plan to make way for driverless cars

The changes to the master plan will be the latest in a series of remodellings for King Abdullah Economic City since the megaproject was announced in 2005.

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The US$100 billion King Abdullah Economic City being developed on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast will remodel its master plan once again to account for new technology such as driverless cars and the Internet of Things.

The chief executive Fahd Al Rasheed said that it was “currently assessing the master plan to assess the economic and physical implications of technologies such as autonomous automobiles and the increasing prevalence of the Internet of Things”.

He said: “We are working with experts from around the world to help us better understand and project what these developments might mean for city design. Once we have completed that assessment, we will hire the necessary expertise to help us develop the new master plan.”

The changes to the master plan will be the latest in a series of remodellings for King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) since the megaproject was announced in 2005.

The 181-square kilometre city, which will be bigger than Washington DC, is being developed by Emaar The Economic City, a company listed on the Saudi Arabian stock market and in which the UAE-based Emaar Properties is a 33 per cent stakeholder.

It initially had a series of canals, an education zone containing several universities and a waterfront downtown district. However, its proximity to the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology meant the education zone was dropped, and the downtown district was moved north next to one of the main stations planned for the $7bn, 450km Haramain High Speed Rail project linking Mecca and Medina.

Canals and culverts were later removed in favour of existing natural waterways as a response to Hurricane Sandy in the United States.

The newest version of the plan was adopted in 2013.

About 40 projects have been completed at the city to date, including its 14 sq km port, which opened in January 2014.

Mr Al Rasheed said that he expected 170 more to be delivered over the next decade, with 38 of these to come online this year, including a new golf club, the 55,000 sq metre Juman Park and a karting track.

“The first decade of the city’s development focused very much on infrastructure – constructing roads and water and power grids, building the port, attracting investor companies and constructing the core residential, educational and healthcare facilities required by residents,” he said.

“The next 10 years will focus on expanding the residential and recreational amenities in the city to make it the best environment to live and work in Saudi Arabia.”

Raj Achan, the Middle East and India business development director at the architecture practice Goettsch Partners, said there were advantages for cities such as KAEC in driverless cars and the Internet of Things, not only through smoother traffic and shorter commutes but also because less parking would be required, meaning more space for higher-value real estate. Mr Achan said: “Driverless cars valet park themselves. There will be no need to open doors, self-parking cars can park in much closer, or even be stacked on top of each other. This would mean much more profit-generating retail, commercial or residential spaces in developments such as KAEC.”

Baz Gharibi, Middle East head of transport planning at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff consultancy, added that master plans “need to be flexible to allow for future changes in travel systems – for example converting car lanes to potential bus rapid transit or light rail transit systems without any major implications or change in design”.

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