Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


For walkability, install public privies

There are many amenities that residents of a major city in the developed world should be able to take for granted, and one basic and often-overlooked aspect of infrastructure that is severely lacking in most US cities is the public restroom.


A London public toilet blends in with the streetscape. Photo by Jennifer Dickert on Flickr.

A stunning graphic appeared in the September/October 2007 issue of GOOD Magazine showing how inferior major US cities are compared to their European, Asian and even African counterparts in terms of the availability of restrooms open to all.

Although this chart does not include Washington, it is doubtful that DC would rank much higher than Boston and Los Angeles.

Last April, Lynda Laughlin surveyed DC's privy problems. She articulated how safe, clean, widely-available public WCs enhance the livability and walkability of a city, especially for people with medical conditions that result in needing to go more often than most.

She highlights the Baltimore-based American Restroom Association, a spunky little advocacy group you've probably never heard of, which is doing its part to raise much-needed awareness of the issue. The next task is to identify and address the obstacles that prevent the District and other local jurisdictions from putting a good public toilet network in place.

Paris is among the cities that has pioneered the use of small, on-street, pay-per-use public toilets that thoroughly clean themselves after each use. This simple, elegant design avoids the need to pay staff to clean and monitor a restroom. They can even be equipped with weight sensors or security cameras to deter illicit activity.

A network of such toilets could easily pay for itself in little time even by charging as little as a quarter per use. Payment could be made inserting coins, swiping a credit card, or by touching a card to a sensor, perhaps a SmarTrip or Capital Bikeshare card.

Homeless people could be given free access to the toilets through tokens or pre-paid cards, thus greatly cutting down on public urination and defecation. Using the toilets as advertising space is another way to defray the costs.

While many Americans may find the concept of paying to use the john to be anathema, the truth is that you already pay part of the cost to maintain the restrooms at any shop or restaurant you visit, even if you don't use them. When push comes to shove, I doubt most people would balk at paying a quarter to be able to relieve themselves.

Residents and visitors of a cosmopolitan city should not be made to feel like outcasts, be forced to buy something, or need to traipse into a hotel, museum or other large public building just to attend to an elemental human need. Let's start talking toilets and encouraging local governments to follow San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles and start installing public toilets in areas with high pedestrian traffic.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation, and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGW are his own. 

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The paid, privately operated self-cleaning toilet idea has been tried before. NY had a trial, and IIRC Metro did on the outer stations of certain lines. This idea never seems to go anywhere. I would pay. Perhaps Metro could be more enterprising and figure out a way to provide toilet access with the swipe of a smart trip card.

by spookiness on Oct 11, 2010 12:24 pm • linkreport

Totally! If you need to go, generally you're on your own. I'm for public toilets for so many reasons.

by Erik Kugler on Oct 11, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

There used to be pay toilets in department stores and the like which I vaguely remember from when I was very very young ... pre-school age. I know that at least in my home state laws were passed banning the practice of charging to use a restroom. (I'd guess similar laws got passed around I believe at the time this was hailed as a 'good move' in that people shouldn't be prevented from using a restroom because they don't have money. Now you're suggesting we go back to those old ways? I dunno ... Yes, it's true that we now have a lot less public restrooms available than we used to, and maybe advocating for more of those is a good idea ... But charging people to use them (or others such as in restaurants and shops) is not a good idea. And I don't see how we could allow charging for public restrooms and not for private restrooms ... since folks would just end up using the private ones. Yes, let's push for more public restrooms but let's not regress to a time when people had to pay to use a restroom. I know Europe (and other parts of the world) still charge for this 'priviledge' but that's not a reason for us to do the same.

by Lance on Oct 11, 2010 12:35 pm • linkreport

@Lance:
The problem is that private businesses already charge for them. It's called the "bathroom tax." You know, where you have to become a customer before getting the privilege.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 11, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

Public bathrooms are one of those things that DC would never be able to handle. Maintenance would be difficult and expensive, and they would be subject to abuse and misuse. We're not a civilized enough city for them.

by JustMe on Oct 11, 2010 12:59 pm • linkreport

I like to think it would work, but I'm pessimistic. Not to say that we shouldn't try it. I think the Mall or near Metro Stations might be a good place to start. Or perhaps near the new CaBi stations?

by Dave Murphy on Oct 11, 2010 1:09 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't mind paying to use the toilet, but I take issue with letting the homeless have free access. Nothing ruins a restroom quicker than homeless people (think the men's room at Union Station or the facilities on the mall/potomac park).

A private company might be able to operate/maintain them better than DC govt could. DC can't even mow the grass at many parks.

by mch on Oct 11, 2010 1:09 pm • linkreport

@ JustMe: We're not a civilized enough city for them.

Kinda sad for the Capital of the Free World.

But seriously, how can this column be needed in one of the biggest tourist destinations in the US? Of course public toilets are needed. Again, solutions have been found around the world. Copy-paste.

by Jasper on Oct 11, 2010 1:10 pm • linkreport

An example in full: In Sweden you pay to use bathrooms in many ostensibly public facilities, like train stations or private ones like malls. It's been that way for 20 plus year. The going rate at today's exchange rate varies between $1-2 and is cash only.

Make the system a concession, with a reward system based on very high standards with the incentive being to keep the profit.

In France public urination is par for the course, even with public restrooms, so I'm not going to believe for a second they reduce public urination. Defecation though, now that's another story.

@mch: Parks as a rule are not DC's remit, since so many are NPS properties. You've submit a complaint/report to the city in those cases when it was not the case, right? Contacted your council member?

@Jasper: As long as Mr. Wilders isn't running the program, like Simon LeGree, it could work.

by copperred on Oct 11, 2010 1:46 pm • linkreport

I could have used a public restroom on my run this morning along the W&OD trail ... ;-)

by Chris on Oct 11, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

[Off-topic]

@ copperred: As long as Mr. Wilders isn't running the program, like Simon LeGree, it could work.

Comparisons of Wilders to LeGree are about as accurate as comparisons of your current president to Stalin or your previous president to Hilter: Utter nonsense and an obstacle to serious debate.

Secondly, Wilders will not be running any programs as he will not be a part of the Dutch government. He will just support most of its policies from parliament and not join motions of no confidence.

This situation (a far-right anti-immigration party supporting a minority coalition) is very close to what the Danes have been doing for a while now. As far as I understand Denmark is still the same rainy quiet little country it always was, so I am not very worried about my little country. After all, our neighbors to the south have been doing without s serious government for the last three years and and that has been barely noted.

Finally, I don't care much for the policies of Wilders. However, I am not happy with the fact that he is being prosecuted for being politically incorrect.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704657304575539872944767984.html

by Jasper on Oct 11, 2010 2:17 pm • linkreport

"A network of such toilets could easily pay for itself in little time even by charging as little as a quarter per use."

What an absurd comment.

From what I understand, the self-cleaning restrooms cost around $200,000 each. How many quarters will it take to pay it off, never mind the water, electricity and maintenance.

And just because they're self cleaning, doesnt mean they dont require labor. Soap, toilet paper etc must be replaced daily by a human.

I'm all for public toilets, but to argue that they'd be profitable is just wrong.

In Europe, theyre usually part of the advertising contract with an agency like JCDecaux or ClearChannel. The 6 in Boston are part of a similar contract.

by JJJ on Oct 11, 2010 2:30 pm • linkreport

@jjj

So, advertising revenue on the toilets doesn't count towards profitability? Why not?

by Alex B. on Oct 11, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

If word gets out there are public restrooms, the bums will ruin them in a matter of days.

As long as you're white and well-dressed, any hotel will let you wander into their lobby and use the can.

And since Alpert caters to upper-middle class whites on this blog (and not blacks), everyone who reads this site should be fine.

I've never had a problem using a bathroom on commercial property. It is one of the benefits of being white and well-off.

by MPC on Oct 11, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

Contender for GGW 'Troll of the Year 2010' right there!

by renegade09 on Oct 11, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson The problem is that private businesses already charge for them. It's called the "bathroom tax." You know, where you have to become a customer before getting the privilege.

While that can sometimes be the case, I've never had a problem finding a place where you didn't need to buy something in order to use the restroom. Think restrooms in malls, restrooms in office buildings, restrooms in stores of all sizes, restrooms in hotel lobbies, restrooms in fast food places ... the list goes on and on. Yes, I think some people may be 'shy' about using a restroom in a place where they haven't bought something, but that's just something they need to get over. The merchants don't care ... I swear! I know from many years ago when I worked in retail and the like. People would come in off the street and ask 'where's your restroom' ... then walk out after using it. It's really not a problem ....

by Lance on Oct 11, 2010 2:50 pm • linkreport

Contender for GGW 'Troll of the Year 2010' right there!

Nothing I said was factually incorrect. Are you really arguing that whites aren't better accommodated in the city than blacks are? In fact, most people on here use their personal experiences to extrapolate trends, so I would argue that I'm par for the course around here.

by MPC on Oct 11, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

"A network of such toilets could easily pay for itself in little time even by charging as little as a quarter per use."

Emphasis on the "could," which in DC means "definitely will not." And if they're priced as a quarter per use, they'd probably lose money on every non-cash transaction.

by ChrisW on Oct 11, 2010 3:10 pm • linkreport

DC had public bathrooms in the past, but most were quickly trashed. In other areas, they were closed out of security concerns. There's a reason why most of Metro doesn't have public toilets. I wonder how that super toilet at Huntington is working out?

by Adam L on Oct 11, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

"From what I understand, the self-cleaning restrooms cost around $200,000 each. How many quarters will it take to pay it off, never mind the water, electricity and maintenance."

Umm - 800,000? Or is this a trick question?

by dcd on Oct 11, 2010 4:09 pm • linkreport

@ MPC It's a troll because it's

a) Deliberately provocative
b) Wrong.

Non-white people can use restrooms in hotels, too, as long as they don't look homeless. On the other hand, there are plenty of commercial properties in DC that won't let anyone use the restroom, no matter how white and well dressed.

by jcm on Oct 11, 2010 4:11 pm • linkreport

I was in Sweden this summer and used the 5 Kronor public WC's. Where its busy, like at the ferry terminal, and there is a long line, the person leaving holds the door open for the next person. Its a helluva a lot faster then everyone in line inserting a coin in a closed door. This results in 10-20 people using the WC on one 5 kronor coin. But really, for me anyway, I didn't care about saving the money. I cared far more about the speed of the line.

by Tina on Oct 11, 2010 4:49 pm • linkreport

The city had public toilets - look at Dupont Circle; it's still there, although long-since locked.

The problem was that the public toilets were overrun by prostitutes, drug users, and the homeless. Local residents and the cops got tired of dealing with the blight, and simply shut them down.

Unless the issue of how to stop the homeless from overrunning the toilets - and the idea of giving them free tokens to use the toilets won't help that issue at all - this idea is a lovely utopian dream.

Sort of like DC streetcars.

by Fritz on Oct 11, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

I have doubts about public restrooms, particularly "automatic" restrooms that "pay for themselves". I'd like to hear about potential problems (haven for drug users, long lines, effectiveness of "self cleaning", initial cost, maintenance cost, etc...) and past failures (in DC, NY and elsewhere) and what would be done to avoid potential problems and failures of the past.

Too much truthyness; not enough hard data.

by Amber on Oct 11, 2010 6:16 pm • linkreport

Are the homeless not people, too? They have to use the bathroom like the rest of us, and are too often forced to do it outdoors. People who use drugs are going to find places to use them with or without public toilets.

As I said, modern public toilets have many built-in mechanisms to deter illicit activity. They are set so that the door automatically opens when someone has been inside for 10 minutes. Cameras could be installed if need be.

Perhaps I should have said that the 25-cent per-use charge, combined with advertising revenue (ads could even be sold on the toilet itself; the toilets could even be used to market brands of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc) would cover the bulk of the costs associated with installing public toilets. Some taxpayer money would need to be spent, but we already pay for restroom maintenance through our taxes and the money we spend in restaurants & shops already, even if we don't use the restrooms we help pay for.

Whatever minimal maintenance is needed could be handled by existing DPW crews. I read that Boston only needs 2 staffers to maintain its entire toilet network.

by Malcolm K. on Oct 11, 2010 6:39 pm • linkreport

"Cameras could be installed if need be."

In a bathroom? I can't tell if you're being serious or not.

"Whatever minimal maintenance is needed could be handled by existing DPW crews."

Bike lanes can be installed by Friday throughout the entire city using existing DPW crews. See, I can make unsubstantiated works of fiction, too!

by ChrisW on Oct 11, 2010 6:47 pm • linkreport

They are set so that the door automatically opens when someone has been inside for 10 minutes. Cameras could be installed if need be.

@Malcolm K: That will fail the second someone is having severe intestinal issues has the door pop open while a school group walks by. No sane person is going to use a toilet with cameras, that's just gross and creepy.

If we do go with some sort of time limit, you need to have a credit card or the like link, so that door doesn't fly open and expose someone to the elements, and morning commuters.

A buck minimum, and maybe a timed scale before that door opens, based on a credit card swipe. If the homeless do need access, and I'd argue that they do, there are any number of agencies and charities that would hand out bathroom tokens.

by copperred on Oct 11, 2010 6:56 pm • linkreport

@ChrisW: even if they did install the lanes, no one would use them, preferring to ride on the sidewalk and scare the bejesus out of pedestrians.

by copperred on Oct 11, 2010 6:57 pm • linkreport

@ChrisW: London's public bathrooms have cameras. I wouldn't recommend that they be installed right away, but if problems do develop, they might be considered. It looks like the ones in London are placed in such a way that only people's heads are seen. Regardless, if cameras are installed, the pictures seen on the other end should be made grainy enough to protect privacy.

@copperred: The automatic door-opening thing is standard in other cities with on-street public toilets. If signs are posted making users aware that the door will open after a certain number of minutes, at least they can be prepared and insert another quarter or touch the card again if they need more time.

by Malcolm K. on Oct 11, 2010 7:07 pm • linkreport

@Malcolm K. London's public bathrooms have cameras.

The UK doesn't have the US's Bill of Rights. I.e., it wouldn't be legal here ...

@Malcom K. If signs are posted making users aware that the door will open after a certain number of minutes, at least they can be prepared and insert another quarter or touch the card again if they need more time.

Ditto ... most likely not legal here for a number of reasons.

by Lance on Oct 11, 2010 7:46 pm • linkreport

San Francisco's toilets have a 20-minute time limit and cost a quarter per 20 minutes. Despite some misuse, they are still in place. I haven't found any record of there being a challenge to the 20-minute limit based on the Constitutional right to privacy.

I only threw out the camera idea as one possible way to deter drug dealing, prostitution, etc. Regardless of legality, it's certainly not preferable. I presume the areas that would get the first toilets in DC are those with high foot traffic, and thus should already have a significant police presence.

by Malcolm K. on Oct 11, 2010 8:03 pm • linkreport

Regardless, if cameras are installed, the pictures seen on the other end should be made grainy enough to protect privacy.

@Malcolm K.: As TSA has already proved, some people can't be trusted to be on the other end of an image producing device without turning into peeping tom/porn distributors.

by copperred on Oct 11, 2010 9:20 pm • linkreport

@Malcolm K. : "Are the homeless not people, too?"

Ugh.

by mch on Oct 11, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

@JJJ, I note that the Wikipedia article on the Parisian sanisettes indicates that Paris rents the 420 public toilets from JC Decaux at a cost of €6m per year, i.e. roughly €1200 per toilet per month. $200,000 would be enough in Paris to pay for one month's rental of 10 sanisettes.

In 1981, Paris originally charged 1 franc for usage of the toilets. I believe they were at two francs when I was there in the early 1990s. And apparently in 2002, they charged €0,40 per use. The Parisian system gets 3 million users, so they were nowhere near break even, subsidizing (by my calculations) about 80% of the cost per year. Thus, in 2006, they started to convert them all over to free toilets and opted to shoulder the full cost.

by Craig on Oct 11, 2010 9:36 pm • linkreport

And I have to concur with other posters, that I would not use an automated bathroom with a closed-circuit camera inside. We may be becoming nearly as complacent as the British when it comes to security cameras, but I don't think we've crossed that line.

by Craig on Oct 11, 2010 9:38 pm • linkreport

we already have public restrooms all over town, Starbucks!

Repeat, Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks. It's been my savior here and in NYC on numerous occasions.

More to the point, how about in the permitting process, the city could include a requirement for certain classes of retail that they offer public restrooms. I'm sure there's some way to figure it out without concentrating all the "lavatory occasions" on one or two businesses, and without having to pay per visit, or build silly automated toilets all over the sidewalks.

by Wil on Oct 11, 2010 9:54 pm • linkreport

The Mall in particular needs public restrooms. Many times I've walked a fair bit to Starbucks or Union Station when the museums are closed. As a former local I always found it frustrating, was somewhat in disbelief, and imagine that for tourists, especially with children, it must be really awful!

by Christina on Oct 11, 2010 10:51 pm • linkreport

Yes, Wil, I forgot to mention Starbucks. Many times the one on Indiana by the Navy Memorial has saved me. Barnes and Noble and Borders also work in a pinch. However, many Starbucks require purchase, or payment in lieu of purchase to use their restrooms. This of course assumes two things: 1) that you have money, and as a child or homeless person you may not, 2) that Starbucks is still open. And the underlying issue is that this devalues the 'public' in public spaces.

by Christina on Oct 11, 2010 10:57 pm • linkreport

I remember hearing about toilets in Europe that cleaned themselves so well you could sit confidently on the seat without needing to use toilet paper to cover it. That's the kind we need here. And then if it cleans itself that well, who cares who abuses it or how as long as it's ready for your next visit and they paid their 25 cents?

"Puritanism is the suspicion that someone, somewhere is having fun." —H.L. Mencken

by Omar on Oct 11, 2010 11:56 pm • linkreport

The problem with Starbucks is that they require a purchase?

So you pay a fee, and then you can use a toilet. Isn't this what those who have been advocating for public bathrooms were asking for? Doesn't the existence of businesses with restrooms open to customers address the problem under discussion?

by Amber on Oct 12, 2010 12:46 am • linkreport

@Amber: The difference here is that public and private don't mean the same thing, even if the business can choose to permit the public, as opposed to its own customers, to use its facilities. Starbucks retains the right to refuse anyone access to its facilities, whereas as a public amenity, the government cannot do the same without cause; it's a far higher bar.

by copperred on Oct 12, 2010 1:34 am • linkreport

@Alex B. Because thats not how the ad contract is set up.
Boston opted to force the ad agency (JC) to install bathrooms as part of their contract. DC decided to force clearchannel to install smartbike. Both cities found out that relying on an ad agency for a public good is a big mistake.

Here's an article about some of the problems these toilets have had in Boston

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/06/08/if_it_works_what_a_relief/

by JJJ on Oct 12, 2010 1:41 am • linkreport

Seattle attempted this experiment around a decade ago. Within a few years the city sold all of the public toilets to other cities because homeless people were shooting up in them, drug deals were happening in them, prostitutes were conducting business in them, and they ended up being about the most filthy, disgusting things imaginable. Other than that, great idea!

by Jeremy on Oct 12, 2010 1:45 am • linkreport

To follow on from copperred's comment, the issue is not with buying a coffee to use a restaurant or shop's maintained facilities. My point, however, was that these are not public facilities. In addition to permitting the public right to access, a store's hours, such as the Starbucks I mentioned, may be limited on weekends. Not to mention that perhaps one may not want to support Starbucks for a number of reasons such as lack of ethical and fare trading, or because one prefers to support local shop owners. Weekends are often when people are out and about and accessing public space, as the public has been known to do.

While from DC, I live in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, where exeloos and other self cleaning loos work well. After 11 years living here I can say confirm that yes there is vandalism, and there are certainly serious drug problems here, but nowhere is perfect. Perhaps the way that people abuse toilets or public places goes to a deeper problem about the disparity of wealth and increasing homelessness that exists in the US.

by Christina on Oct 12, 2010 5:27 am • linkreport

in Baltimore there are a few porta-potties at each of the public parks, particularly next to the playgrounds. for some reason the playgrounds still smell like piss anyway (not to mention the occasional used condom).

this is a good link to pix of public baths in Europe
http://www.spottedbylocals.com/coolest-public-toilets/
including an image someone posted at the bottom of the portable public 4-way urinals in Amsterdam, which I have used and thought were fantastic! I think it would be a great idea to drop off a few of these public urinals near areas with lots of bar traffic, at least friday/sat night, for example along the Adams Morgan strip. I don't know how many times I've seen someone peeing into some resident's flower-filled plantar.

by lwatkins on Oct 12, 2010 7:57 am • linkreport

MPC, our favorite troll. Gotta love his 1950's sensibilities and bitter, negative rhetoric. He probably thinks Marion Barry is still mayor and wants to avoid the "crack-gangs" that rule Constitution Avenue in front of the Washington Monument. You wonder why he hangs out here and at BeyondDC if he so obviously hates the city and everything about it.

by Kyle on Oct 12, 2010 8:57 am • linkreport

re: Lack of public restrooms.

This is yet another consequence of how we treat the homeless/mentally-ill in our society. In suburban environments, where there are explicit and implicit policies to drive away the poorest of the poor, there really aren't that many problems with having public restrooms.

In urban areas, where America has decided is the appropriate place for warehousing its poor and mentally-ill,, a public restroom becomes a de facto homeless shelter, public bathing facility, etc, etc...

Of course, suburban/exurban locales won't build public restroom facilities as part of the above-mentioned "implicit policies to drive away the poorest of the poor".

It sucks, but falls into the category of "Why we can't have nice things." Like park benches.

by oboe on Oct 12, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

Kyle, you're right, I was wrong. Blacks and whites in the district are never more equal than before.

by MPC on Oct 12, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

What makes you think the homeless will actually use these things if we put them in? We have trash cans throughout the city, and they still throw their garbage wherever it's convenient, I can't but assume they'll do the same with their bodily waste.

by ChrisW on Oct 12, 2010 9:36 am • linkreport

In urban areas, where America has decided is the appropriate place for warehousing its poor and mentally-ill,

Please tell me where the poor live in Western Europe. And please don't spew the line of B.S. that there are no poor in Western Europe.

thanxkbi

by MPC on Oct 12, 2010 9:40 am • linkreport

DC is so far behind the curve vs. major European cities. When I travel in Europe, I'm so grateful for the public privys. They're clean, convienient & should be all over our city in tourist areas as well as in our bustling neighborhoods (Dupont, Penn Quarter, Chinatown, Logan, etc.)

For those that haven't had the opportunity to travel to places like Paris, London, Stockholm, etc., when you go, you'll likely return & wonder why DC doesn't have these yet! :)

This shouldn't even be something we have to think about or debate - someone PLEASE spearhead this, it's a long time coming. I'd join a committee in a hot minute to make this a reality, ASAP.

by John Thompson on Oct 12, 2010 9:48 am • linkreport

And, btw, the fact that drug-deals and prostitution will occur in public restrooms isn't an indictment of public restrooms, it's an indictment of our treatment of marginal characters in our society. Set these folks up in their own apartments (where they can get their shit together, or drink themselves to death, or whatever) and suddenly they're not trashing the public sphere.

by oboe on Oct 12, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

Set these folks up in their own apartments (where they can get their shit together, or drink themselves to death, or whatever) and suddenly they're not trashing the public sphere.

Deal drugs? Get a free apartment!

There are plenty of non-drug dealer or hooker people who have been recently evicted and would love to be "set up" with an apartment.

by MPC on Oct 12, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

There ARE public restrooms on the Mall,(I've used them) albeit thay are inadequate in number and placement.
http://www.americanrestroom.org/gov/nps/index.htm

by Tina on Oct 12, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

What a wonderful, yet pointless, spew of "debate". I think we can all agree this city has a deplorable lack of "relief facilities." There's a good reason that every Metro elevator smells like urine! Why aren't there public toilets in the Metro stations, when a person could be stuck on the commute for well over 90 minutes?

For this and many reasons, I'm grateful for the Loudoun Commuter Bus by which I travel each day, and it's well-maintained potty in the back. I don't use it (think Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyworld), but I'm glad it's there if I ever need to.

by AB51 on Oct 12, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

I would GLADLY pay as much as a $1 to use the bathroom if it meant not having to sit in a hot, steamy, dirty, and smelly public bathroom. Even the restrooms maintained in businesses and eateries tend to be as disgusting as a port-a-potty! If we had some of these, I'd be greatful because I wouldn't have to worry so much about drinking too much water and not being able to get to a bathroom... after all, that pain of holding it can be such a downer on your long day! lol

by Matt on Oct 12, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

@MPC:

Deal drugs? Get a free apartment!

Of course, that's the knee-jerk reaction, and one of the reasons it's unlikely to happen. But a few years ago, there was a pilot project in Portland (I believe) where they determined that something *insane* like 20 homeless alcoholics were accounting for something like 60% of the county emergency budget. Almost every night, the same units were dispatched to scrape these folks up from a pile of their own vomit, take 'em down to the emergency room, and treat them before releasing them back into "the wild."

So the local government set them up in no-strings-attached apartments, gave them a monthly stipend, and told them to go at it. So the city ended up saving a couple of million dollars a year for an outlay of a hundred thousand or so.

Of course, most Americans are more interested in teaching schizophrenic drug addicts "a lesson" than maintaining any semblance of decent public sphere, so it'll never happen.

After all, a program like that would only encourage folks like yourself to go batshit crazy, sell your children, and wallow in your own filth, right?

by oboe on Oct 12, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

@AB51:

For this and many reasons, I'm grateful for the Loudoun Commuter Bus by which I travel each day, and it's well-maintained potty in the back. I don't use it (think Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyworld), but I'm glad it's there if I ever need to.

Exactly! Because the toilet on a public bus is indiscriminately sprayed by the urine of a thousand middle-class cubicle drones every week, rather than the occasional vagrant. Makes all the difference in the world!

by oboe on Oct 12, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

PRTC (Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission)has had two self-cleaning bathrooms at its transit center in Woodbridge since the spring of 2007. The bathrooms are free to use and I've never heard of any problems with them. There are security cameras nearby, but none in the bathrooms themselves. There is a guard who patrols the entire property during operating hours, and the bathrooms lock overnight.

by nevermindtheend on Oct 12, 2010 12:15 pm • linkreport

After all, a program like that would only encourage folks like yourself to go batshit crazy, sell your children, and wallow in your own filth, right?

Dave, please enforce your policy and denounce these ad hominem attacks.

by MPC on Oct 12, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

@MPC:
Sometimes when you try and elicit a response from people you hit paydirt. And sometimes you don't.

It seems to me that Oboe is using your logic to refute your argument. That is an acceptable debating tactic.

Please note that Oboe did not call you "batshit crazy." That would have been an ad hominem attack. Instead, Oboe suggested that since (as you suggest) certain social programs encourage bad behavior, that a program which tries to treat drug addicts in a certain way might encourage non-drug-addicts to become drug addicts. And Oboe wonders if perhaps you're worried that you would succumb to the temptation.

It is a question. All you have to do is say "no, programs like this would not cause me to go batshit crazy, sell my children, or wallow in my own filth, because there's more to behavior than social programs."

So, I judge Oboe's comment to toe the line, but not cross it.

Please keep fishing, MPC.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 12, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

@MPC:
By the way, David is not the only person who monitors comments. That's one of my roles, as well.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 12, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

All you have to do is say "no, programs like this would not cause me to go batshit crazy, sell my children, or wallow in my own filth, because there's more to behavior than social programs."

Sorry, guess I'll have to be more explicit. Of course programs like that wouldn't cause MPC to throw his life down the toilet--or any other reasonable person for that matter. Which was exactly my point.

The would be crazy. Almost as absurd as the idea that we can apply a rational set of rewards and punishments to un-medicated crazy people.

by oboe on Oct 12, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

It's very easy to take anything useful to the public and suggest that it's impractical because the smelly bums will abuse it.

We've had this precise argument before about public transport, libraries, benches, parks, liquor stores, green space, trenches, plastic bags, and sidewalks.

What does it take to get someone to admit:
1) That we have structural problems in our society, primarily in the extent of our mental health and addiction treatment programs, that push more people 'on the edge' towards homelessness than in other societies or other times in our history;
2) That these problems push those not able to care for themselves towards walkable cities and places that have public services;
3) That this is not a problem with the idea of walkable cities or public services, but with our mental health and addiction treatment programs;
4) That the type of thinking which advocates eliminating public services and urban amenities in order to send the smelly bums to 'the next town over' creates a race to the bottom for all cities which results in bad urban space, makes life harder for poor, working class, and middle class people, and does not actually eliminate the homeless problem once cities equalize.

Notably, accepting 1 through 4 do not require you to actually drop your hatred of the smelly bums. Humanizing the homeless is beyond the scope of a blog post, and it's not necessary to defuse this argument.

by Squalish on Oct 14, 2010 1:31 am • linkreport

Sure Squalish. A number of comments do touch on the deplorable state of our society's treatment of others and marginalization of them. Perhaps you have some suggestions then about dealing with the topic of public toilets?

by Christina Kaiser on Oct 14, 2010 4:42 am • linkreport

Right. If the topic is the total degradation of our urban public spaces, it's not very helpful to begin with "Assume a Scandinavian-style social safety-net..."

I don't think you'd get a disagreement from most DC residents that something along those lines should be implemented at the national level--DC residents are pretty liberal. The problem comes in when you propose bankrupting the city in order to make DC a Mecca for the region's (and possibly the nation's) homeless.

You get a sense of this in your comment, which implies that "cities are for the poor and homeless" and that the suburbs (and suburban taxpayers) have no role in addressing the issue.

by oboe on Oct 14, 2010 9:14 am • linkreport

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