Magazine

Rx for Hospital Parking

Richard C. Rich

Designing hospital parking requires careful attention to the structure’s function. It generally serves a variety of users, including employees, inpatients and outpatient surgery patients, visitors and emergency services workers – and sometimes even med-flight helicopters. Additionally, hospital parking structures often require more handicap parking than is typical. These various uses require design features that other types of parking do not.
Most efficient parking structures consist of the sloped floor making the transition between levels. In hospital parking, this transition should occur on only one of the modules if possible, leaving one or more modules of flat space within the structure for the parkers to re-circulate between floors when looking for a place to park. This design approach also provides greater flexibility for providing handicap parking since all points on that floor are level.
Generally, employees are assigned parking on the slope floors and upper levels of the structure, leaving the flat sections of the first few floors for patients and visitors. Some larger structures with large flat areas use shuttles to transport patients from the remote parking spaces to the elevator towers.
Beyond the engineering components of parking design, there are several additional design features to be considered. The first is lighting, which should be provided at uniform levels throughout the structure. Many designers make the mistake of providing only direct lighting in driving aisles, which undermines visibility.
Visibility is a key, not only to parker convenience, but to security as well. Structures with high visibility permit parkers to see hazards long before they approach them. As a rule, areas around stairways and within 30 feet of elevator cores should have 30- to 40 foot-candles of light, while driving aisles can be illuminated at somewhat lower levels.
Another important passive security feature is the use of glass in lobbies and elevator towers to improve visibility within and outside the structure. Additionally, building codes often permit open stairs within garages, fire stairs or larger areas of glass to make stairways safer.
Many hospitals also include active security in their structures. For instance, security cameras can be strategically placed to provide a view of activity in parking areas. Some cameras, upon noting differences in motion, can automatically ring an alarm to summon security officers.
Many structures also have sound-monitoring systems that can alert security personnel to problems, and which include two-way communication capabilities so officers can speak directly with patrons.
These security features should be prominently displayed to reassure users that parking areas are being monitored.
In fact, security is a paramount concern in any parking development. And since visibility is a key to safety, all parking facilities should be as open as possible.
While many hospital planners prefer parking lots because of their openness, it is possible to achieve the same sense in parking structures by keeping them well illuminated structurally open. Additionally, structured parking can actually be easier for security staff to monitor through security cameras and audio equipment. And, of course, structures aren’t impacted by inclement weather.
The next important component of parking design is wayfinding. There must be sufficient signage to direct all users to appropriate parking areas, and to their ultimate destinations in the hospital. These signs should be as clear as possible, with large easily read lettering.
If possible, hospitals should consider installing dynamic signs that can direct parkers to areas within the structure that have available spaces. Today’s LED technology is very efficient and, as a result, these signs are inexpensive to operate.
Similarly, LED technology has made lighting much more efficient. LED lights can provide as much light as traditional metal halides, yet use just one-third of the power. Although the initial expense of installing LED equipment is higher, the low operating cost ensures that it will soon pay for itself.
Design features aren’t the only consideration when developing hospital parking. Choosing the right materials is also essential. Many structures today are constructed of precast concrete, which provides more rapid construction and often at a lower initial cost. When creating parking facilities with precast, there are a number of design rules of thumb that must be adhered to. For instance, placement of the shearwalls should not impair vision or create areas where someone could lurk.
Many contemporary shearwalls are built as “K” frames, which feature crisscrossing beams that provide visibility to the shearwalls. Although they cost more than traditional precast shearwalls, they dramatically increase visibility and light throughout the structure. Generally, if the “K” frame is not used, enhanced lighting should be incorporated on all four corners of the shearwall in the center of the building. Shearwalls should not be placed at the ends of driving aisles because they can impede drivers’ ability to see turning vehicles.
Because of the wide variety of types of parkers who must be served by hospital parking facilities, hospital parking provides a number of unique challenges. However, by following a few basic rules of thumb, hospitals can readily meet these challenges.
Richard C. Rich is Founder and President of Rich and Associates. He can be reached at parking@richassociates.com

Article Abstract from May, 2008




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