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 https://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.

Comments are closed.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾