A few days back, 29 year old Ahmad Al Ghadani, a resident of Al Hamriyyah, had to rush to the hospital with severe stomach ache. Speeding in his car, he reached the hospital in no time. Entering the parking premises however, he came to a dead end. Traffic was backed up and not moving at all.
Writhing in pain, he haplessly struggled through the traffic for nearly an hour, before he could found a tight spot to plunk his car and rush in. His traffic-jam trepidation was finally over.
Clogged lanes and cars vying for space is a common spectacle in the parking areas of Hospitals in the capital city these days. Vehicles can be seen moving at snail's pace, and frenzied motorists negotiating shoulder lanes, causing further delays in vehicular movement.
The situation is worse especially during the wee hours from 9 in the morning till 2 in the afternoon, visitors could be seen doing rounds in the parking, exiting and re-entering the parking hopelessly searching for a parking spot for their vehicle. A public relations official at the Khoula Hospital, on terms of anonymity, said there was "significant disruption" for patients owing to the parking problem, adding there were also at times unacceptable delays in ambulances accessing the site due to the density of congestion.
The ever increasing number of cars, along with a rapidly expanding infrastructure has led to a sheer parking space crunch across the city. "The problem is everywhere; from hospitals to shopping malls, to other major business hubs, everywhere the commuters face the blues while parking. Every now and then the parking areas are re-planned and expanded. But the situation more or less remains the same," says another official from Al Nahda Hospital.
New constructions and road repairs near hospitals is also adding to the existing problem. Recently the staff parking at Khoula Hospital lot has been taken up for the construction of a new multi-speciality facility. At Royal Hospital also, the newly built cardiac centre consumed the staff parking area, leaving them with no other option than to use the general parking space.
At the Khoula Hospital, the situation is further aggravated with the main and only parking exit opening directly onto a traffic signal, blocking vehicle movement at fixed intervals, leading to long queues of waiting cars. Also, the exit of the main parking area of the hospital is bottle necked, which further leads to congestion.
The situation is even worse with private hospitals, which mostly have little or no parking lots.
The hospitals have been trying to counter the situation by expanding the parking areas. At Khoula Hospital, the parking facilities were recently increased to 136 slots for staff and 530 for public in the new car park in front of the new A&E block and near the entrance to the hospital. The Royal Hospital has a capacity now of accommodating 1,000 cars, with new parking areas in the front and backside. Al Nahda Hospital also has expanded its front parking to more than 500 meters.
But the problem is still persistent. Explained Sultan Al Saadi, Deputy D.G. Administration & Finance, Khoula Hospital, "Whatever parking most hospitals have, it is not even sufficient for the staff, leave alone the public and patients coming there. During visiting time it gets even worse! We have a parking space for more than 700 cars, but our own staff is 2000 plus in numbers. Dedicated staff parking is there but numbered and only for the specialised and technical staff. The majority accesses the general parking area".
With the space crunch, however, horizontal expansion seemingly becoming impossible, vertical expansion might be the most viable solution to the problem, feels Sultan. "Ultimately we will have to go with multi-level parking, if we are looking for a concrete solution to the problem. With the ever increasing number of cars, and so much construction going on, we have very limited or no options in expanding horizontally," he maintained.
Another official from Khoula Hospital revealed it had also sought permission for multi-level parking, but the request was denied by the Ministry of Health due to certain reasons. He further added multi-level parking must be made mandatory by law for all multi-storied buildings. He said the municipality was giving permission for multi-storey buildings, but there were no concerns or guidelines for parking space. "The situation would become endless like this," he expressed concern.
Royal Hospital is soon going to have a multi-level parking on its premises. According to the Ministry of Health, the tender has already been passed for the high tech multi storied parking, and the construction is expected to be underway soon. It is hoped the new facility would end the parking crisis at the hospital. The hospital would also be initiating Internal Traffic Support soon, to equalise the traffic flow out of its several parking bays, an official from the hospital PR department confirmed.
Another important suggestion from the Al Nahda official was to implement mandatory use of the official transport by the hospital staff to effectively curb the situation by limiting the presence of staff vehicles.
Lack of civic sense
Salim Al Rawahi, a citizen, had taken his four-year-old son for a check-up at Khoula Hospital, on Tuesday, last week. They were stuck in the car for a full hour in the parking. Their appointment time over, dejected and frustrated he had to reschedule it for next day at 11 am and leave home at 8 in the morning, to make it on time.
"There needs to be a more coherent strategy to tackle the situation. People just dump their cars and go off. They just don't care how much inconvenience, their insensitive action would cause for others," he said.
Another, Thomas Matthew, who had taken his mother-in-law to an appointment, moved 50 yards in half an hour.
Mismanagement and lack of parking etiquette also contributes to the mess-ups in parking areas, believes Sultan Al Saadi. "Some people would deliberately park their cars within the exit lane, or just outside the division they want to visit. We have even put warning signboards, but still people do it. Many, especially the ones driving 4X4s, would even park on the pavement," he said.
Many people would still park vehicles in the entrance or exit lane despite ample parking slots being available, pointed further the official from Royal Hospital. "There is a huge parking bay at the rear of the hospital precincts, which for most of the times would lie empty while the hospital driveway would be clogged, simply because the parking is a bit distant. People just want to get down from their cars, and directly step in to the facility".
Although the ROP was notified in some situations, generally reprimanding the non-complaints did not seem to be apt and a lenient approach was adopted towards them, noted Al Saadi. "People come in distress and emergency to the hospital, and reprimanding would further stress them, which we do not want to. It is a catch-22 kind of situation".
Many people opined conversely on the issue. "We are forced to park at inappropriate places due to the unavailability of proper space. It is not a shopping mall, which we could opt not to go to, due the absence of parking. We have to manage anyhow, and attend to the business" said Majid Al Balushi, a resident of Seeb area.
Asked if inspection squads or Marshals were deputed to check and control the situation, the official said patrol teams were there, but given the huge area, they could not keep a vigil on all corners at a given point of time.
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