Another innovative solution - Some
municipalities reimburse local business establishments that announce their
restrooms are open to the public with no requirement to purchase.(2)
frustrated by lack of facilities Detroit News Mar 26 '02
last, downtown Geneva visitors will have place to go Chicago Daily
Restroom Exist but Where?
Street Sign above
| Many locations have
excellent public toilet facilities but few know where they are
located. Even when not a stand-alone public restroom,
facilities are often available at such entities as Community
Centers, Parks and Athletic Fields. This is one of
the most frustrating and least expensive problems to
If women ran the world
To get the best return on their public restroom investment,
* Municipalities should have signs at key
* note them on Tourist Maps.
* Larger cities should provide toilet
A low-cost effective method of leveraging an existing
asset are signs that guide trail users, especially the first time
visitor, to existing nearby toilet facilities.
Commuter Parking Lots
Used as start points for mass transit, or 'car pools',
commuter parking lots often involve waiting. This wait-time adds to
the time it took to get there. Worse, after the car pool is formed,
the riders face a potentially long trip ahead in slow rush-hour
traffic. Adjacent wooded areas provide evidence of the problem.
Often, uncaring public works officials will remove shrubs rather than
provide a chemical toilet.
When a portable-toilet is provided, placement should consider esthetics,
security, and maintenance. Commuter Parking Lots typically are in open
areas and have overnight and weekend periods of inactivity. A
sufficiently wide base, partial fencing or other measures should be
considered to prevent tipping by wind or bored teenagers.
The Building Code adopted by most municipalities requires
at least 1 male and 1 female restroom at all transportation passenger
terminals. Unfortunately, this code is not always followed(1).
An interesting example is York Pennsylvania's new
'spoke and hub' 'Bus Transfer Center'.
While it features a climate controlled waiting area, it
does not allow riders to use its restrooms. 'Rabbit
Transit' is not the exception. For many years transit
customers were not allowed to use the restrooms of the large and
complex Washington D.C. Metro Transit System. Fortunately, WMATA is working to resolve this
No modern Commuter Transit System would intentionally design
a station to preclude use by someone in a wheel chair.
The same philosophy must be applied to the 'restroom
challenged'. Transit Stations without public restroom access
have toilets for their staff. Staff will occasionally
honor a customer request; unfortunately, there's no
guarantee. Changing System Policy to require honoring
all customers’ toilet requests is a no-cost
Where permanent facilities
are not available, portable toilets should be placed in discrete,
safe areas adjacent to stations. Stations with
large sprawling parking lots should have a portable toilet in the area located the greatest distance from the
Japanese Subway Sign
status of Subway Systems in North America
Athletic Fields and small
Ball field with no toilets, no shrubs, no trees
and no relief
||Many people, particularly women, are
loath to play mixed gender team sports. Male physiology makes
going in the shrubs less onerous and men are less embarrassed
by jeers of less-thoughtful team mates. Those not willing to squat
behind a shrub have two choices. Avoid the
activity or avoid fluids.
At the edge of a children's play area unit is
intended as much for mom as her her kids
Both choices have negative health
Besides serving those playing field
sports, a field toilet is a boon for those walking, jogging, and the
occasional driver in need of a pit stop. Not
everyone shares this view
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Publication No. 95-2754, July
The 9 to 5 Problem
Many cities have facilities that are available during the
workday. After hours, people in need are out of luck. In many
locations the typical 'after hours fallback' is a fast food
outlet. Unfortunately these establishment are often located at the
Municipalities, especially those with enforced 'civility
laws', must provide alternatives. Cities sometimes close their 'comfort
station' at night to move nefarious activity elsewhere. Signs on the
locked restroom doors should provide alternatives. Typically,
municipal public safety operations are staffed '24 x 7'. A local
police station can accommodate the few late night persons in need with
minimal impact(1). If
there is excessive traffic then the Municipality has a restroom requirement
that must be accommodated
As noted above, some cities have restrooms located in
municipal lots within view of the parking attendant. This
configuration allows use without fear of crime. Even bicyclists can
seek relief without fear of bike theft.(1) An intoxicated person may choose public
incivility rather than visit the police station
Building Code Toilet Facility
The National Building
Code adopted by most States provides well though-out 'minimum
number of toilet facility' recommendations. As adopted by
most States, the code, for example, requires a restaurant to have at
least one men's and one women's toilet for up to 75 people. On
the other hand a for a night-club the maximum is ,reasonable, reduced
to 40 people. There are implementation of the code,
however. that can results in people queuing to use the restrooms
(1) Outside seating distorts this
formula. For the most part these people are not occupying the
building but they can be expected to use the restroom as often as
(2) The formulas are based on a
standard restroom configuration that allow more then a single person
at a time in the room. When the door to the restroom can be
locked this reduces how many people can use the restroom at a given
time. (See 'Occupant Locked Restrooms' below)
(3) There typically is no consequence
when a restroom is closed for cleaning or for repair.
(4) When an occupant of a building is
not allowed to use a restroom, redress is difficult.
Occupant Locked Restrooms
Large well planned restaurant chains, such as McDonalds,
have restrooms with non-locking doors. Toilet stalls provide the
necessary privacy. Even if you have to wait, it's typically not
long. Many establishments, however, have small rooms with a single
toilet. The doors 'slide lock' from the inside. Occasionally this
can be a problem. It may be an employee having a smoke break or the
town drunk passed-out. Especially after a long drive the 'uncertainty'
can be excruciating. For many, thinking you're seconds from relief,
then being denied, results in an urgent situation.
non-locking restroom configuration assures that customers can at least wash
their hands before eating. More importantly this configuration prevents
misuse. Not just from employees taking an unauthorized break but
also from criminal misuse (drug sale, prostitution). Prohibiting Smoking in restroom would
probably improve their availability.
Some small business establishments have only space for one genderless 'water
closet'.(1) Obviously, it must be locked. At locations where there
are two lockable restrooms, keeping both rooms genderless mitigates access
Typically, extended 'lock-out' will not occur simultaneously. This solution, so obvious to some,
is upsetting to others. Some feel one sex is messier than the
other. Others misunderstand, assuming an 'Ally McBeal' type open
room shared by both sexes. When a Unisex restroom also includes a
urinal women report less problems with messy seats, though other say the
urinal makes them feel they are in the wrong bathroom.
Unisex Restrooms also are an inherently
balanced solution to the 'potty parity' and some institution such as Fullerton
College have made successful conversions.
(1) IPC Code allows one unisex bathroom for buildings with a
maximum occupancy of no more than 15 people
Office Buildings that require a key for restroom
To assure building restrooms are used only by
tenants and their guests, many Companies have keyed bathroom
entry. This configuration allows multiple people to use the
facilities and affords additional security. Unfortunately, this
hindered access can be a problem for the restroom challenged. After a
long trip, for example, a person may desperately need to use the restroom as
soon as they enter the building. If they can't quickly find the
organization they are visiting their health is compromised. Buildings
should have at least one non-locked restroom near the entrance available for
all occupants of the building. Typically buildings in areas where
there could be a problem with misuse already have access control procedures
such as a guard.
regret the inconvenience"
Restrooms are sometimes closed in the middle of the business
day. Typically the signs offer no option even when alternatives
exist. At a food court, the closing also prevents customers from
washing hands before eating. While at variance with existing
public health requirements, enforcement is lax.
Those responsible for cleaning the restroom should provide
directions to the next closest restroom. If none are nearby, the
restroom should be cleaned by the appropriate gender so that only a 'Caution
- Wet Floor' sign is required.
Carolina University's thoughtful 'Temporary Restroom Closing' Policy
The "For Customers Only" Spiral
In towns without public facilities, restaurants often get
non-customer traffic using their bathrooms. Soon one establishment hangs the
dreaded "Customers Only" sign. This worsens the problem for
the remaining restaurants. Few weeks pass before every business in
town, including service stations, sports the warning.
codes require that all occupants be allowed to use the restroom, but
enforcement is difficult. Some Municipalities have passed
additional legislation specifically mandating that non-customers be
accommodated. An interesting concept being considered by Geneva,
Ill will reimburse a business that is willing to publicize public
Vagrants, Vandalism, and Crime
The often hidden reason for the limited availability of public
Being a customer doesn't always help. Get off the Interstate for gas
at night in the center of a big city and you may find the attendant, behind
a bulletproof screen, and the facilities locked, No Exceptions!
Delaware's Rehoboth Beach officials recently announced
tougher enforcement of their 'civility laws'. What's missing from
the story: Rehoboth began closing its three public restrooms in late evening
to keep out the 'riffraff'. Their boardwalk is often quite active when
their facilities are locked. Police have no guidance for those needing
Transit officials will often admit they should have more
restrooms but they don't want to deal with 'vagrant occupation'
concerns. It's perhaps one of the best examples of unintended
consequence of our 'well-meaning' lack of support for vagrancies laws.
Punishing the innocent to solve social and security problems is
wrong. Worse, closing restrooms to solve misuse exacerbates the
problem. Just as allowing graffiti to remain in place, bolted
restrooms signal menace as does the smell of urine in the stairwell.
Listed are design steps that can
reduce misuse of public restrooms.
* Curve or "L" door-less entrances (provide privacy but reduce
* Security mirrors aligned to protect privacy while
improving site lines.
* Stall doors that,
(impedes surprise exit)
are no lower or higher then required
have indication of occupancy
Spring loaded stall doors that
are open (inward) when not in use(1)
* Restrooms heated only enough to prevent freezing
* Bright lighting and windows (at least with sight-lines to the wash
* Signs stating local ordinances and rules of use
* Willingness of Police and Courts to enforce
* Nearby Pay Phone which allow suspicious activity to be reported
* Implementing entrance audio and video surveillance with signed
!! The doors of these three toilets
are chain locked !!
These toilets are intended to service a
large multi-use athletic field and they are also adjacent to a
popular paved trail that loops around the edge of the
park. As the worn dirt trail leading to the units
attests, they are heavily used. When asked, a Municipal
Park and Recreational employee said the lock-out was
caused by 'over-use' He explained, with no sense of
irony, the units were intended for the ball fields but
pedestrians from the
paved trail were also using them.
(1) Also improves
efficiency!! - unoccupied stall are clearly visible
In the past a town's municipal building that housed 24X7
operations typically provided an available off-hours restroom.
Especially since 'Sept 11' many Federal, State and even Local government
buildings now apply stringent access control. Even buildings housing
police operations are now locked. This 'fortress'
approach, much like graffiti, signals danger. Tourism is hurt
and people living nearby have one more concern if there are no other
restrooms, when they walk in these towns.
Closed for the Winter
Serious cyclists, joggers and walkers are active year
round. Unfortunately many unheated public facilities must be closed
before the first freeze. Ironically, feeling a chill can lead to
a more frequent need. While there are fewer people outside in cold
weather, those that are outside need facilities with greater frequency than
during the warmer months.
Caring municipal officials place portable toilets at Parks
and Athletic Fields year round. They place 'porta-jons' by unheated
public facilities closed before the first freeze.
Many municipalities rent portable toilets. They are
reluctant to pay monthly rental costs during the less used winter
months. Typically these rental costs are mostly the cost to service
the unit. An alternative is for cities to own portable toilets and
procure only the cleaning service. Service intervals can be lengthened
in winter months. If purchased and maintained thoughtfully, the life
cycle cost of a year round chemical toilet can be less than partial year
Chemical Toilets Placement and
Porta-Potties are a low cost, quickly implemented toilet
availability solution. Unfortunately, those in need use them with
hesitance. They are often improperly serviced and become foul smelling
and unsanitary. When installed on an uneven base they rock and can be
Properly sized units with the proper service interval remain
sanitary and odor free. Units should be purchased with water-less hand
cleaner dispensers and they should be based on a solid flat
surface. Those government entities who issue permits for Special
Event should mandate strict portable toilet
facility count requirements.
Wood slat fence surrounds two
If the units are to be
installed on a permanent basis, a commuter parking lot for example, a three
sided wood slat fence provides a cosmetic improvement and a concrete base
provides stability that improves user acceptance. The photo at the
left shows how a wood slat fence improves the view from a Park Picnic area.
Self Cleaning Public Toilets / Pay Toilets
||Automatic Public Toilets (APT)
are low maintenance self-cleaning units. They cut labor
cost but still require some maintenance, typically via a
service contract. Some municipalities budget the cost,
while others sell advertisement space in and on the unit to defray or
offset the need to charge. In a worst case situation the
APTs are used as
a revenue source. The Public Restroom Initiative appreciates efforts that increase availability
but does not endorse charging for basic human functions.(1)
(1) Intl Plumbing Code Sect 403.6.2 Pay facilities:
Required facilities shall be free of charge ...
(1) Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration
(2) Land controlled by the National Park Service, locations where food
will be handled, and FEMA
Special Events Toilet Guidelines