GGW: Let’s Have Public Bathrooms in DC

by Will Smith

Smart growth blog Greater Greater Washington yesterday advocated for the installation of pay public restrooms throughout DC, arguing that they fundamentally improve the “livability and walkability of a city.”

While at first blush the idea might seem unworkable — dirty, neglected, or abused public toilets would do anything but enhance the city — GGW points out that other major cities around the world such as Paris have installed them to great effect. The facilities there are self-cleaning and can come equipped with technology to prevent abuse. Charging even a nominal fee to use them means they can pay for themselves as well.

The model for a new public loo on display in Toronto

GGW also notes that to a certain extent public bathrooms already exist in the form of those found in stores, restaurants, or hotels. Case in point: ask a New Yorker about public facilities in Manhattan and they’ll answer that they already exist: they’re called McDonald’s. The trouble is, proprietors of such establishments offer their bathrooms as a service to patrons only, which often results in a “bathroom tax”, or the obligation to buy something if you wander in off the street looking to use the head. Buying a Big Mac to get in the bathroom is an awful lot more expensive than the 25 cents or so a public restroom would cost.

“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,” writes GGW. “Let’s start talking toilets.”

What do you think? Should DC install public facilities in select areas around the city?

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ggw_lets_have_public_bathrooms_in_dc/2565


  1. swested said at 11:54 am on Tuesday October 12, 2010:

    Perhaps it is partially because I live here, but I really haven’t ever had the urgent need for a bathroom facility while out in the city. It just seems like there are enough free (supermarkets) or close-to-free options.

    Plus, if these were kept up as poorly as, say, WMATA…I shudder to think what they would be like after a few months of regular usage.

  1. SimonF said at 12:04 pm on Tuesday October 12, 2010:

    I wholeheartedly endorse this idea. I regularly find myself in need of “relief” when I am biking around the city, and always have to face the scowls of restaurant staff who begrudgingly allow me to use their facilities.

  1. cahbf said at 1:09 pm on Tuesday October 12, 2010:

    60 Minutes did a story on this many years ago when NYC tried these and the disability rights extremists had them all removed under a barrage of too-expensive ADA litigation.

  1. iEatDC said at 3:49 pm on Tuesday October 12, 2010:

    We have free, fairly well-maintained public bathrooms in DC.  Smithsonians!  Between the free museums, bookstores, the mall (Georgetown Shops) and open university buildings, I haven’t had this issue in DC.

  1. Steve said at 4:46 pm on Tuesday October 12, 2010:

    While this sounds like a good idea, I don’t think public toilets would go over well in the District. Seattle installed five automated loos at a cost of $5 million and ultimately closed and sold them for a loss because they became so filthy from drug users and prostitutes. So here’s Exhibit A of why I don’t think it’d work in DC:

    “I’m not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there,” said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. “But I won’t even go inside that thing now. It’s disgusting.”


  1. Geori said at 10:09 am on Wednesday October 13, 2010:

    I agree with Steve.  No matter how nice they start out, they are going to quickly become filthy.  We are better off sticking with museums and the port-o-johns on the mall.

  1. Andi said at 10:56 am on Wednesday October 13, 2010:

    I have not been to Paris in about 15 years, but I do recall using them there and if I remember correctly, it was a small box room with just a hole in the ground. Not really a bathroom by our standards. When you left the room, the door self locked and the entire thing was power washed from the inside before the next person. I don’t remember whether there was toilet paper or a sink. If it was a more standard bathroom, it would be much harder to keep clean. I think its a bad idea.

  1. anon said at 11:44 am on Wednesday October 13, 2010:

    SF has successfully implemented the ‘self cleaning’ facilities.  They are also used by intravenous drug users, but the time limit keeps things strictly to business and is safer and cleaner than people using out in the open.  Same could be said for its intended purpose.  I’m in favor, as long as it’s at a cost and it’s self-cleaning

  1. Justin Beck said at 11:51 am on Wednesday October 13, 2010:

    I would mark the advance of civilization by its ability to provide public restrooms.  I have used the ones in San Francisco near the wharf and they were fine (more than fine when you have to go).  I don’t mind paying as long as it isn’t required to have physical coins.  SmartTrip card or dollar changer would be accptable.

  1. Julia said at 7:24 am on Sunday April 14, 2013:

    I found this article because I planned to go for a long walk to a particular destination—a former family home—where I would not be going inside.  As a visitor in town, where there are easily accessible ‘public’ bathrooms is an unknown, and I know when I need one, I’m hardly thinking clearly.  I looked online to see what I could find out.  It’s the first thing I think of when I think of an outing, along with having drinking water.  It’s a lonely feeling to be in an unfamilar place and be desperate for a restroom.  In addition, as an American, I would say that this is our nation’s capitol, and it should welcome its citizens from far and near, as well as its foreign visitors.  Truly public restrooms go a long way to giving that welcoming feeling!  I would rather pay a quarter for a public restroom than use a bathroom meant for customers.

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