Providing a high-quality parking experience is critical in most business environments, but healthcare administrators are especially challenged when it comes to providing their customers and employees with adequate, efficient parking. Numerous factors contribute to this daunting environment.

For starters, patients may be in pain and/or feeling anxious when they arrive or leave, which means access and the overall experience can have a dramatic impact on their well-being. A higher percentage of the visiting population also has either permanent or temporary disabilities or access challenges compared to other businesses. As a result, visitors expect and often require convenient and available parking that’s as close to the front door as possible.

On the staff side, attracting talent has become an increasingly difficult task. Providers are finding that access to affordable, convenient parking may be a deciding factor for nurses, clinicians, and other staff when considering potential employers.

Additionally, patient volumes are rising as providers grow outpatient services, meaning there’s a higher daily turnover of patients that’s creating a more intensive use of parking resources during peak demand periods. Meanwhile, tighter margins thanks to shrinking reimbursements mean that providers have fewer dollars to dedicate to parking programs.

These realities together require a well-planned and integrated design solution for parking and campus access.

To begin, developing operating guidelines—or guiding principles—is especially useful for designing a healthcare mobility ecosystem appropriately. This process will help identify critical elements such as acceptable walking distances, the willingness of users to ride shuttles to access off-site parking, and the need for enhanced wayfinding.

The creation of user group profiles—such as visitors, physicians, and employees—and understanding the unique needs of each user group further define key service parameter requirements that directly impact the design of the parking components of the campus and their integration with the building envelope.

Next, consider the following steps to ensure solutions designed answer the needs identified.

Design solutions
1) Enhance efficiency. In many cases, existing parking space sizes are larger than what’s required by local agencies, making for inefficient parking layouts. For example, a standard parking stall is 9 feet wide for most agencies; however, some user groups, such as employees, can park effectively in 8-foot-by-6-foot parking stalls because they arrive with less equipment and have greater mobility. Some healthcare campuses have increased their total number of parking spaces by 5 to 15 percent by conducting this type of layout reconfiguration. In addition to reducing stall widths, another effective tactic is changing aisles from one-way angled parking to two-way 90-degree parking.

It should be noted that reducing stall widths too much can negatively impact the parking experience for users by creating tight spaces. Parking retrofits should be done cautiously, balancing increased space count with user experience by evaluating data such as local parking ordinances, customer feedback, crash and property damage reports, interviews with parking operations staff, and in-field observations.

2) Invest in technology. Leveraging new technology can lead to both improved efficiency and effectiveness for hospital parking operations as well as enhanced customer service and the potential for increased parking revenue. Parking guidance systems provide directions and wayfinding to patrons unfamiliar with the campus and can also indicate the number of spaces available, making accessing a campus less stressful.

Additionally, new license plate recognition systems can improve the parking transaction experience and reduce exit time from minutes to seconds. For example, in the traditional model, customers pull a ticket upon entry and pay a cashier at exit. With a license plate recognition system, a vehicle’s plate number is recorded upon entry and exit, with payment made at a kiosk upon departure.

When considering these technologies, attention should be given to placing kiosks in highly visible locations near high-volume pedestrian paths between the parking area and buildings. Additionally, license plate readers require a certain distance (upwards of 50 feet between the camera and gate equipment) to read license plates, which creates a need for longer stretches of circulation with no turning near entry and exit gates.

3) Integrate parking with the building. In the healthcare environment, patients and visitors often have limited walking distance tolerances due to medical conditions, physical limitations, age, and other factors. Failure to appropriately locate parking resources within reasonable walking distances can lead to long-term increased operating expenses such as parking tram/shuttle programs or valet services. These conditions also frequently result in poor customer satisfaction ratings and lower quality service benchmark scores.

A good time to overhaul parking is when major changes are being made to a facility, such as the relocation of the front door or the creation of a new outpatient entrance. Elements to review include proximity of accessible parking, pedestrian access (including ADA-accessible routes), wayfinding and signage (internal and external), security, and lighting, all of which can have a direct and immediate impact on the customer experience. Design features that can bridge the gap between parking and clinical space include pedestrian bridges, art and wayfinding at exterior elevator corridors, waiting room space immediately adjacent to valet operations, and enhanced pedestrian wayfinding via mobile devices.

4) Evaluate remote parking. This option is often necessary to keep a campus functioning until long-term solutions can be defined and implemented. Typically, shuttle programs are applied to employee groups and can be a very effective interim solution. However, long-term use of shuttle programs can affect employee morale and staff retention. The most effective hospital remote parking/shuttle programs often rotate departments or staff and are sensitive to departmental issues such as peak patient volumes or on-call schedules.

When operating off-campus parking with shuttle services, specific attention should be given to the user experience. Waiting facility amenities, such as air conditioning, heating, seating, and security, should be provided to create a positive and inviting experience. Off-campus parking is most beneficial in an area with a large number of spaces, so that pedestrian flows are high and constant throughout the day, allowing for a safe and vibrant experience.

5) Consider alternative transportation. Accommodating active transportation, or alternative transportation such as walking, biking, and transit, can also reduce parking demand—typically between 5 to 15 percent. These reductions in parking demand depend on the level of support and investment the administration contributes to this approach. Intentional design elements throughout a healthcare campus, such as special areas for loading and unloading, drop-and-ride locations, bicycle racks and lockers, on-site shower facilities, bike repair stations, and enhanced bus shelters, can incentivize alternative travel modes. Some of these design elements can be incorporated into parking facility design, such as bike storage rooms and covered bike parking.

Long-term success
By considering these key parking and campus-access strategies, healthcare campuses can help assure that overall institutional goals and objectives are successfully supported. Effective integration of parking and campus access into long-term facility planning creates an environment that provides for superior customer service and satisfaction. This level of investment in the customer experience will go a long way in the future-proofing of healthcare campuses.

Jeffrey Smith, PE, CAPP, LEED AP, is an owner and project manager at Kimley-Horn (Atlanta). He can be reached at jeffrey.smith@kimley-horn.com. Dennis Burns, CAPP, is a vice president and senior project manager at Kimley-Horn (Phoenix). He can be reached at dennis.burns@kimley-horn.com.