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Metro cities worldwide are famous for the population density. With a higher population comes an exponential increase in automobile traffic, greater probability of accidental and regular patients, and the ever-growing problem of parking. Hospitals, as a structure, are one among the many that fall at the intersection of all these problems of urbanisation.

However, a hospital is more accountable for immediate social good and immediate mass welfare than a mall, a school or any other business entity. In fact, healthcare along with education are the only single-industries which directly influence a country’s growth factor. Schools however are rarely frequented by unexpected individuals and overall schools have the ability to group up several students and staff members in the convenience of automobiles. Hospitals don’t have this luxury. Being five minutes late to class is a better alternative than being five minutes late to the hospital. After all, board exams are not as much of a matter of life and death as, literally, life and death. But what happens if the parking and traffic flow isn’t mapped? The hospital would be in a state of utter chaos.

So we decided to take a closer look at the traffic flow and parking in hospitals.

“Firstly, there are two kinds of parking planning projects, namely, greenfield and brownfield. So to provide adequate parking space, even the future is taken into consideration. In a city like Mumbai, where each square-foot is valuable, parking is a challenge. There are restrictions on basement parkings too, so you have to go with a multi-level car park.” says Prassanna Wategoankar , Senior Manager Architectural Services, Hosmac India.

“There are a few parameters to consider before the planning actually starts. Hospital bed size and speciality, site location and size, expected number of staff and patients are the key factors. Once these parameters are fixed, the next step is the planning of the space around these parameters. The government has basic guidelines and requirements for this. In case a hospital has an Accident and Emergency department, the plan not only accommodates more ambulances despite bed size, but it also provides more parking spaces for visitors.

Additionally, higher priority is given to emergency cases and disabled individuals.” says Yunus Basheer, Traffic Engineer, MinConsult. “When it comes to drawing out an effective plan, there are some logistical concerns. Having a single traffic flow system is ideal as it ensures swift and neat movement within the parking spaces. Slope gradient is another key factor that comes to play in hospital parking. Slopes in a hospital slightly increase the time taken to cover distance and when it comes to every second making a difference, it cannot be taken lightly.” Yunus adds.

How much scrutiny goes into the parking lot of a hospital? After all it’s just a waiting room for your transport isn’t it? Well a lot, as explained by Dr. M.D Marker, Medical Director, BMJH, Vasanthnagar and Girinagar, Bangalore. “During a conference with the traffic police of Bangalore and other BBMP members, I was once asked – “The main road is only 30 meters wide and you have 500 parking spaces. What if all 500 people decide to leave the hospital together?” As baffled as I was, I tried my best to give a satisfactory answer to the committee. There’s a tough round of prodding by the local officials and police forces once the plan has been proposed and the parking area plan is thoroughly scrutinized.”

Dr. Marker adds “Planning the parking flow is essential for any hospital as it gauges the traffic flow within and from outside to inside in a facility. The government parameters are already in place and we follow the same guidelines when it comes to planning our facilities. Traffic flow must be unhindered especially to the emergency care centres and this is absolutely crucial. This process can be aided by using signage, pointer arrows and other navigational tools. “

But what about old hospitals trying to grow? According to Prassanna “The biggest challenges are always faced while planning the parking of the brownfield. Due to permanent structure which have a maximum height and other immovable physical factors, multi-level parking and latest trends are harder to accommodate. The existing parking conditions must be altered in such a way that it makes the most of the available resources. In this case, numbers are often sacrificed due to a lack of space.”

Apart from all the guidelines and physical limitations, there’s also a lot of added though that goes into it. As Yunus says, “A key factor for nailing down parking in hospitals is creating a stopping area for ambulances where paramedics can quickly gain access to the patient. This stopping area cannot affect the flow of traffic and must be at a closer location as opposed to the other departments in the traffic flow because of the time factor. Along with all these measures, certain other nuances must be considered. These include walking time to-and-from buildings to parking for both patients and their aides, ease of access of the vehicle within the parking lot area alignment and keeping the parking area as secure as possible from a design perspective.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Marker expresses parking-related concerns of a different kind. “Some hospitals are in the business of using hospital parking as an income booster by charging patients and their attendants for each vehicle parked. This is wrong on so many levels: economic, social and human. At BMJH we never charge for parking as we consider this to be fundamentally wrong and don’t see any growth opportunity by adding unnecessary costs to the patient.” Another unforeseen aspect is that of staff behavior and trends he highlights. “In our hospital, doctors and staff members often opt to cycle to work. In this case safety of the vehicle becomes very important. Vehicles such as a hearse van and the ambulances also have to be kept away from the visitor’s or patient’s parking area for a more effective utilisation of these resources.” says Dr. Marker

Planning the parking space is a much bigger feat than what it sounds like, especially in the case of a hospital. It’s vital to ensure a smooth flow of traffic and give ambulances plenty of area to operate. Even slope gradients and walking time are considered along with meeting staff requirements and government laws. It’s not easy to plan the parking area of a hospital and only the ones who work within the established procedural framework know how important and essential it is to the delivery of healthcare services.

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