Developing a Transport Strategy for the Holy City of Makkah (Mecca)

Developing a Transport Strategy for the Holy City of Makkah (Mecca)


Dr Simon Temple, AECOM, Prof Abdulrahem Al Zahrani, Kiing Abdul Aziz University, Michael May, May Associates


This paper describes the development of an integrated, multi-modal transport strategy to meet the transport challenges facing Makkah including public transport (metro and bus), highways, pedestrian movement, traffic management and city logistics, together with associated land use development proposals. It also discusses the process through which the strategy was developed.


Makkah (Mecca) is a substantial and growing city with a population of more than 1.5 million. It is also visited by millions of Muslims from throughout the world who come to worship and take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage. It is forecast that the city will grow to a population of between 2.2 and 2.5 million by 2029 and will attract more than 3.9 million Hajj pilgrims. In addition 5-10 million international visitors and many visitors from other cities of Saudi Arabia are expected to come to worship and perform the rituals of Umrah, with a peak during Ramadan. In response to the growing number of visitors and the consequent pressure on Al Masjid Al Haram (the Great Mosque in the city centre), it is being expanded to a capacity of more than 1.5 million worshippers.

It was recognised that the city’s existing transport system within Makkah Central Area (MCA), which relies on private cars, taxis, charter buses and a very limited public bus network was already inadequate and caused a series of problems including severe congestion, poor road safety, noise, air pollution and visual intrusion. These problems have the potential to undermine the spiritual experience of visitors and constrain the future development of the city. They would only worsen unless effective and comprehensive action is taken.

In order to address these problems, the Higher Authorities of Saudi Arabia requested the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) to form a technical team and develop a transport strategy for Makkah with strong emphasis on MCA. This remit was subsequently extended to include the sites to the South East of the city visited by pilgrims during Hajj. This paper describes the development of the transport strategy through a process involving the MoHE technical team and international consultants. During the first phase of work 5 transport consultancies worked separately but in parallel to develop initial concept solutions. This was followed by a second phase in which 2 firms, AECOM and Steer Davies Gleave, developed proposals in more detail and then worked with the Ministry team to develop a final strategy. The study process was unusual for a transport study in that it moved from a “competition of ideas” in the early stages to a more collaborative approach subsequently, with a high degree of peer review and challenge from the MoHE team and their advisors throughout. The paper draws on the authors’ experiences as the team leaders for MoHE, AECOM and Steer Davies Gleave. It describes the study process and the key findings of the work. It also outlines current progress on the implementation of the strategy.

The key challenge for the study was how to develop a strategy which caters for the every day needs of the city and is able toaccommodate the very high flows to and from the Great Mosque during Hajj, Ramadan and for Friday prayers, especially the ultimate peak of 1.1 million people leaving after the end of evening prayers during Ramadan. A hierarchy of modes was established based on the density of people that can be accommodated with pedestrian movement at the top of the hierarchy followed by metro, then bus and finally car or taxi. This led to the conclusion that initial dispersion from the mosque should be on foot with metro stations and bus terminals located at about 600 metres from its periphery. Cars and taxis should be banned from the central part of the city, apart from provision for people with disabilities, at peak periods. However it would not be possible to accommodate all worshippers in the peak hour at public transport terminals that could physically be provided within walking distance. Accordingly a substantial proportion of worshippers, especially visitors, needed to be accommodated within walking distance. This led to the development of a land use strategy which would achieve this while ensuring that pedestrian flows could be managed, provision was made for the needs of worshippers (food and drink etc) and development was respectful of the holiness of the place.

The strategy then needed to consider a series of consequential challenges including providing servicing access to the centre; accommodating growth in residents and visitors outside the centre; providing normal city functions (commercial, administrative etc) in a way that could be served by sustainable modes and would contribute to the year round use of the public transport system, and how to cater for through movement.


Association for European Transport