Rethinking Parking Lots and Structures

When it comes to parking, hospitals seem to never have enough. At the same time, customers ― whether patients, staff, or visitors ― always want to park as close as possible to the their designated entrance. Because easy and convenient access is a prime indicator of hospital customer satisfaction, U.S. hospitals are rethinking the expansive asphalt parking lot and dreary concrete parking structure. Innovations in design, technology, and financing, along with careful planning, can mitigate shortages and improve customer convenience. Now with a global pandemic, parking lots and structures are also being called into action as part of an organization’s emergency response strategy.


Parking Garage EntranceHospitals are constructing customer-friendly parking lots and structures that provide easy access, enhanced wayfinding, and optimal security along with other amenities. Hospitals with dense, urban campuses have been providing valet parking and shuttle services for several decades to facilitate customer access and address security issues. They are also reassessing the overall ambiance and providing new amenities:

  • Parking stalls for carpool vans and recreation vehicles, and charging stations for electric cars.
  • Pay-on-foot systems with charge card readers
  • Real-time automated displays that graphically show parking availability by floor and stall
  • Construction of pedestrian walkways and bridges connecting to key elevator banks and stairs
  • Better lighting and signage ― particularly in response to the aging of the population
  • Providing free wi-fi
  • Painting unfinished concrete white
  • Providing visual cues to facilitate wayfinding

Wayfinding is being improved with new features to help patients and visitors remember where they have parked upon returning to their cars. This may include specific themes for each floor level with pictographs or accent colors. Kiosks may also be located at vertical circulation points where the customer can print out a map indicating the location of their parking space to aid in finding their car when they return at a later time. Exterior aesthetics are also becoming more important. It is common for architects and developers to specify façade enhancements to better blend the parking structure with other hospital buildings and/or with the natural environment in which it is placed.


Although customers have historically expected parking to be free at their local hospital, charging for parking is now becoming the norm. It may also be the only way to make a new healthcare facility financially feasible. Parking structures are costly to build ― with a median construction cost of $21,500 USD per space (Cudney 2019) ― adding millions of dollars to the cost of a healthcare facility project. Generally, the more urban the area, the less likely that patrons expect free parking. With the emphasis on bicycling, carpooling and using public transportation, healthcare organizations are no longer apologetic about charging their staff (including physicians) for on-site parking. Off-site employee parking, with a shuttle service between the remote parking lot and the hospital, is also an option for congested campuses. Other models may include having a third-party develop, own, and/or manage the new parking structure, or joint venture the project with the hospital, through various master-leasing and revenue-sharing arrangements.


In 2020, with the COVID-19 public health emergency, hospitals around the U.S. are redeploying their parking lots and structures as part of their emergency response — such as for drive-through screening, testing, and immunizations. While normally packed to capacity, many parking structures sit empty as elective procedures are cancelled, staff are furloughed, and visitors are banished from the campus.

Back in 2009, I wrote about how the Stanford Hospital and Clinics was Incorporating the Parking Garage Into Disaster Planning. This prescient organization was already practicing a training exercise to test their emergency preparedness plan which called for using their parking garage as a drive-through emergency room in the event of an influenza pandemic.


Healthcare organizations need to develop a parking strategy as part of their campus master planning and it should be closely integrated with capital planning, architectural design, customer service improvement, information technology initiatives, and disaster planning.

Reference: Cudney, G. and R. Smith. 2019. “Parking Structure Cost Outlook for 2019.” Carl Walker. []

See related posts: How Many Hospital Parking Spaces? and Estimating Space for Parking.

This article is an update of a previous post.