Foothills parking 'disaster' persists, but hospital says it's not a capacity issue

Adele Brunnhofer missed a critical appointment at Foothills hospital, all because she wasted 50 minutes hunting for a place to park. And her story is all too familiar to many Calgarians.

AHS promises wayfinding improvements and new spots in coming months

Adele Brunnhofer took to social media with her story of Foothills parking woe, and a resounding chorus of similar horror stories echoed back. (Left: AHS, Right: Adele Brunnhofer/Facebook)

Adele Brunnhofer thought she did everything right — she picked a weekday, mid-day time slot, she left early to give herself plenty of time to get there — and still she ended up missing a critical appointment at Foothills hospital, all because she couldn't find a place to park.

"I spent 50 minute looping in that new parking facility, and I was kind of shocked that it was just so full with such lack of direction," said Brunnhofer, who swears she's not a bad parker.

Parking at the Foothills Medical Centre has been notoriously difficult since 2016, when two construction projects began in preparation for a new cancer centre and a new main parking lot.

In 2017, AHS closed 800 stalls in Lot 7, outlined here in red, to prepare for construction of the new cancer centre in the northeast corner of the Foothills hospital campus. (Government of Alberta)

But in April, the hospital opened its new central parking lot, which added 1,000 parking stalls and brought the total number of public spots to 1,700.

Despite that, the parking situation is still described as a huge hassle — and not just by Brunnhofer.

"It's a disaster," said hospital visitor Theresa Deitz.

"You drive around forever and ever, and you never know where you are. And then when you come back to try and find your car, you never can find your car. It's so frustrating, and it's always, always crazy busy," Deitz said.

Parking lots rarely full, says site director

The hospital, however, says those anecdotes aren't necessarily supported by Alberta Health Services data.

Hospital site director Michael Suddes told the Calgary Eyeopener that parking utilization rates are typically between 75 and 80 per cent of capacity, even on the busiest days. 

But Brunnhofer has heard nothing but a resounding chorus of similar complaints after she posted her parking tale of woe on social media.

Many suggested she'd be better off hunting for parking in a nearby residential or shopping area and then walking over to the hospital — a painful ask of anyone who's ill or living with mobility concerns, she said. 

"I just think going to the hospital can induce a lot of stress on its own, so for a lot of people to have the shared experience of the added stress of parking just seems needless," Brunnhofer said.

Hospital committed to improvements

Suddes said the hospital sympathizes with patients and families who have had these trying experiences at the Foothills parking lots.

AHS's data suggests it's not a capacity issue but rather one of design and signage. And the hospital says it's already begun looking for solutions.

"We're really grateful for everyone's patience as we move into our final stages of parking and wayfinding improvements," Suddes said. 

'We do recognize though that there are some opportunities to improve wayfinding within the central parking lot,' says Michael Suddes, site director for the Foothills Medical Centre in northwest Calgary. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Suddes said the hospital's patient and family advisory wayfinding group met as recently as last Thursday to review a set of designs to improve signage and relevel entrances to the lots.

"We plan to implement as many of those recommendations as soon as we can, and we feel that will make a big difference," Suddes said.

Today's 1,700 public spots actually represent a net loss of about 100 stalls since those major construction projects began three years ago.

But Suddes said the total will rise back to "at least 1,800" once the final level of the central parking facility opens, which should happen in the next several months.

When the Calgary Cancer Centre opens, expected in 2023, the facility will gain 1,600 net new parking spots, he said.

AHS is also exploring ways to help people gauge the parking situation in real time, which could mean an online tool or new digital utilization metres posted at parkade entrances, Suddes said.

In the meantime, Suddes says, visitors should take some extra time to plan their trip and visit AHS's website before they head out.

"There are some quite good resources to help people find the right entrance, and the right parking lot, and get to that care as quickly as possible."

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.


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