Reclaiming urban streets for walking in a hot and humid region: the case of Dammam city, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Alabdullah, Montasir Masoud
MetadataShow full item record
Due to the current practices of street design in countries with hot and humid climates that prioritise air-conditioned cars as the favoured mode of transport, the physical and spatial characteristics of the street space have failed to retain much or any user-friendliness for walking or for sustaining street life. Moreover, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the increasingly sedentary lifestyle is leading to significant health problems and prevalence of lifestyle diseases. However, there has been limited research conducted on the use of urban streets under hot and humid conditions, and even less is known about the impact of certain sociocultural aspects in, for example, Muslim countries, on the design of streets for walking. Such a situation poses challenges to the urban space researcher and designer interested in gaining a better understanding of how walking can be restored into the street space. This thesis contributes to the advancement of knowledge in this area by integrating three influential factors connected to walking in a single study; an approach which has not been elaborated previously. This thesis aimed to broaden the understanding of pedestrians’ requirements, attitudes and preferences in order to identify ways in which the neglected street space can be reclaimed for walking under hot-humid climatic conditions and to inform decision-making into improved street design. The scope of this research centred on combining an understanding of pedestrians’ thermal comfort in a hot and humid urban environment, that of the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia, where the problem is particularly acute, coupled with exploration into the socio-cultural aspects through which behaviour such as undertaking increased physical activity is governed. The research postulated an interactive relationship between the existing conditions of the street space and these two factors. Owing to the multifaceted nature of the factors affecting an individual’s choice to walk, there are few accepted theoretical frameworks, hence studying the cause-and-effect relationship between street design and walking is challenging. Following the literature review and analysis of existing street characteristics; the strategy of mixed-method data collection combining participant observation with interviews and a questionnaire was conducted. The findings revealed the dual impact of key street characteristics on pedestrians’ reluctance to walk on streets and this led to two levels of simultaneous interventions being suggested: physical and spatial. The analytical process (1) identified the upper thermal comfort limit for pedestrians by application of the Physiological Equivalent Temperature index, ‘PET’, through use of the RayMan Software; (2) revealed that physical proximity to other people while on the street is the most sensitive socio-cultural issue in the outdoor spaces of Saudi, particularly between the opposite sexes, and that the existing pavements are generally too narrow to accommodate the preferred personal distance; (3) identified appropriate design interventions at the microscale of the street space to introduce improved shading and create air movement to reduce the impact of solar radiation and humidity and thus to contribute towards encouraging more use of streets for walking; and (4) marking the pavement to indicate distance walked along with high quality streetscape elements was shown to attract pedestrians effectively. Such findings have significant implications for restoring the place of walking on streets in hot and humid cities and the research concludes by emphasising: (1) it is the design of the street space in climatically responsive and socio-culturally compatible ways, rather than the configuration of the urban form that is most associated with increasing physical activity; (2) there is a crucial need to redistribute the street space away from cars and towards pedestrians by widening the existing pavements both for satisfying the average personal comfort distance between pedestrians and for incorporating appropriate streetscape elements.