Behavioural thermal regulation explains pedestrian path choices in hot urban environments


Due to phenomena such as urban heat islands, outdoor thermal comfort of the cities’ residents emerges as a growing concern. A major challenge for mega-cities in changing climate is the design of urban spaces that ensure and promote pedestrian thermal comfort. Understanding pedestrian behavioural adaptation to urban thermal environments is critically important to attain this goal. Current research in pedestrian behaviour lacks controlled experimentation, which limits the quantitative modelling of such complex behaviour.

Combining well-controlled experiments with human participants and computational methods inspired by behavioural ecology and decision theory, we examine the effect of sun exposure on route choice in a tropical city. We find that the distance walked in the shade is discounted by a factor of 0.86 compared to the distance walked in the sun, and that shadows cast by buildings have a stronger effect than trees.

The discounting effect is mathematically formalised and thus allows quantification of the behaviour that can be used in understanding pedestrian behaviour in changing urban climates. The results highlight the importance of assessment of climate through human responses to it and point the way forward to explore scenarios to mitigate pedestrian heat stress.

V.R. Melnikov, G.I. Christopoulos, V.V. Krzhizhanovskaya, M.H. Lees, P. M. A. Sloot, Behavioural thermal regulation explains pedestrian path choices in hot urban environments, Scientific Reports 12 (1) (2022) 2441