May 22, 2018

The Continued Need for Accessible, Public Bathrooms

Call them restrooms, toilets or bathrooms, but they’re all facilities providing a basic human need. And, somehow, we are developing a more connected city for walking, cycling and transit, and conveniently forgetting to provision such facilities for such needs.
Price Tags has been writing about the fact that, if you are old, or if you are young, or if you are human, you still need a place to go, and certainly it would make transit more convenient and comfortable if you just had access to bathroom facilities.
Even Info Vancouver tries to make a joke about it while providing a guide to those on the go, who need to go, and who must otherwise look to stores, museums, bars and clubs.
Trust health advocate and writer Andre Picard with the Globe and Mail to take up the cause of providing public bathrooms. And Mr. Picard has come up with an excellent idea to pay for public washrooms~call them essential infrastructure.

It costs more than $1 million to build a kilometre of road, and we also pay to clear them of snow and fill potholes. We also police roads to ensure that people aren’t speeding or defacing road signs. Why is building and maintaining roads for cars considered an unquestionable necessity and legitimate expense, but having public washrooms is deemed a superfluous luxury? The answer is not to refuse to build public bathrooms; it is to value and maintain them as any other public infrastructure.

Andre Picard notes that Montreal was to get public washrooms, but they’ve never materialized. New York City promised 20 in 2005; only five are in operation. Toronto promised to install 20 public toilets; just three are installed and working. Even Seattle, which was the innovator in 2003, has pulled back. But in recent years there are rumblings that they will try providing public washrooms again.
Which gets us to Metro Vancouver’s urban centres. Mr. Picard observes that we have “nine self-cleaning public toilets, not to mention 94 more public facilities in city parks.”  While that all sounds well and good for the City of Vancouver, there’s still a dearth of public washrooms where you need them across the region, such as in downtown cores and along major transit routes.
There’s an obvious need for these facilities where people are congregating, as well as maps that show where they are (which would suggest they would appear on mobile map apps as well, truly a sign of personal relief entering  the modern age).
Cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam have policies to provide bathrooms — why can’t we?
As covered in the Vancouver Sun, in 2016 Vancouver councillor Elizabeth Ball put forward a motion, inspired by a push by Vancouver’s Seniors Advisory Committee for more public washrooms, which stated: “Access to public toilets is a basic human need and is a critical feature of any age-friendly city.”
As noted in the motion, public toilets help older adults and those with medical issues feel comfortable going out to run errands, exercise and socialize, “thus encouraging healthy, active aging”. 
Isn’t this part of a greater strategy? Let’s get it done.

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