Why We Need More Public Toilets

Oh public potties. If you don’t have a young child in toe, you probably never think about them. I didn’t certainly didn’t, until my bladder shrank to the size of a walnut and was later surgically improved to the size of a juice orange (for reference, yours is about the size of a grapefruit). Now I think about them all the time, especially in New York, a city of 8 million where you can probably count all the functioning “public” toilets  you can actually find (not including Starbucks, that great green beacon of hope to the pea-bladdered among us) on your digtis.

Don’t believe me? Only a fraction of New York’s 421 Subway stations offer public facilites (78 to be exact, but don’t expect ’em to be open) and the ones I’ve visited (Grand Central, Times Square, Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island and Forest Hills) are all universally disgusting. Among its 1,700 public parks, there are a dismal 1,100 public toilets, which sounds like a lot until you consider that some parks have several, and most parks have none. For example: there are 166 park toilets in Brooklyn, a borough of 2 million people and 520 acres of parkland spread across hundreds of public parks. Bravo for the parks, not so much for the potties. Prospect Park has eight, one for every million visitors. I could go on.

The point is this: unless you buy an overpriced latte every time you have to pee and/or never travel more than a ten minute walk from your home or office, you’ve felt the pinch of the facility famine. The situation is even more abysmal for thousands of workers  (like the 48,000 licensed taxi drivers, 300ish newstand owners, and countless hole-in-the-wall businesses, day laborers, etc) who have no facilities of their own and must rely on the largesse of eateries, houses of worship and even neighbors to avert total kidney failure. But most of all, it sucks for average New Yorkers.

Because the truth of the matter is, we can’t fix the public toilet problem unless  face what’s causing it.  Save for a few, what public toilets remain are rediculously graffitied, filthy, and hopelessly overrun by drug users and the homeless, who use them to keep warm in the winter, to bathe and store their stuff.  I know, because I use them all the time. New York tried closing toilets between midnight and 5 am, but that hasn’t really helped, just given M.T.A and Parks and Rec another excuse not to open them at all.  That’s the wrong solution. Most public potties in Europe are staffed and charge a pittance for toilet paper. That’s one solution–another is to install the sort of pay toilets that San Francisco uses (although those aren’t without their flaws). Whatever is done, though, should be done now.  Seriously, I gotta go

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