Saudis Take to The Streets

How Urban Planning is Changing Step Counts in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi government is encouraging its citizens to take to the streets to join a quiet revolution. It wants them to walk. Saudi Arabia ranks amongst the lowest countries in the world in step count. The average Saudi in Riyadh takes fewer than 3,000 steps a day, and the government is working to double that number by 2030.

Saudi cities aren’t very walkable, with high temperatures, poor sidewalks, high curbs, and few crosswalks. Poor conditions for pedestrians push many into cars, and efforts to ease traffic congestion often worsen pedestrian conditions.

To promote walking, the Ministry of Health launched the Healthy City Initiative. It has encouraged citizens to participate in national challenges and share their progress on social media, linking walking to physical health. Saudis have formed neighborhood walking groups, using #Mushat Al-Saudia (#SaudiPedestrians) to share routes and step counts on Twitter. Today, over 50 walking groups across the Kingdom organize walks along Jeddah and Riyadh’s promenades, with some boasting over 20,000 followers.

The government has also announced ambitious urban planning projects, including planting 7.5 million trees in Riyadh by 2030 to reduce temperatures and improve walkability, as well as the construction of the New Murabba neighborhood, which is part of their new vision for cities where all facilities are accessible to residents within a 15-minute walking radius. Developments like the New Murabba neighborhood prioritize biking and walking infrastructure—or at least they will after they open in seven

Though cities like Riyadh and Jeddah have improved their mobility index over the last couple of years, they still have a long journey ahead of them. Saudis increasingly see walking as a promising hobby, but it is not yet an ingrained part of their daily life. Part of the problem is one the government will be hard-pressed to address: for much of the year, Riyadh remains over 90 degrees well into the evening, but cars can be kept at 72 degrees, if not lower.  

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Lubna Yousef

Lubna Yousef

Former Research Associate, Middle East Program
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 Layan Shaaban

Layan Shaaban

Intern, Middle East Program