Is It Time to Demand More Restrooms in Your Hometown?

Canada’s GottaGo! Campaign fights for better restroom access through web app, public awareness of dire sanitation needs.

Is It Time to Demand More Restrooms in Your Hometown?

Jim Kneiszel

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Take a look around your population centers and count the number of public bathrooms you see. Stop and consider how many people are congregating in popular gathering spots. Walk downtown and you’ll see restaurants with signs in the window stating restrooms are for “customers only.”

If your area has a large population of homeless people, you know the lack of facilities can be a huge problem. Beyond homeless people in the streets, how do you feel about visitors to your fair city looking for a place to relieve themselves and finding nowhere to go? Who’s responsible for providing these necessary bathroom facilities? Is this the duty of the municipal government?

A group of fed-up individuals in Ottawa, Ontario, the capital city of Canada, think so, and they’re raising a stink about lack of public bathrooms ­— which includes your portable restrooms as well as permanent facilities. The GottaGo! Campaign is on the case, and you could be, too.

Never considered yourself a political activist? Well, now might be the time to start so the sanitation situation improves in your own backyard.

A GottaGo! representative, Alan Etherington, recently lobbied the City Council and private businesses to take action during a broadcast segment of “Armchair Mayor” at the Ottawa Citizen website. One of the group’s four initiatives to improve sanitation in the city would be of interest to readers of PRO.

“Let’s make more use of port-a-potties at splash pads and sports fields that have no nearby toilet, and at park and ride transit stations,” proposes Etherington, who refers to himself as a “public bathroom advocate.”

AID THE DISABLED

“When we leave our homes, workplaces, or hotel rooms, we lose access to our regular toilets. Some groups are especially anxious about toilet access. Families with young children, seniors losing bladder control as they age, people with diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis, transit users on long trips, people in parks, and probably just about everybody at some time or other,” he continues.

“Helping visitors and residents find access to a public toilet is part of making Ottawa a great place to live and visit.”

According to GottaGo!, the population of greater Ottawa is 1 million and an additional 10 million visitors come to the city every year. But the city’s restroom locator map, www.ottpee.ca, shows only about 100 public bathrooms, of which almost half have limited hours of operation and many parks, mass transit stops, and other busy public locations have no restrooms, GottaGo! claims.

The group has made progress convincing the city to make modest investments in portable restrooms and improving permanent facilities. After GottaGo! funded a restroom at a kid’s water splash pad and proved it was heavily used, the city agreed to rent 10 more restrooms for splash pads in the city. After further urging, the city committed to phasing in more restrooms at transit stations.

But the work is far from done. A subgroup of GottaGo!, the Raging Grannies, shows up in public places to rally for restrooms. They have written a song, part of which goes like this:

“Gotta find the nearest possible depot.

Can’t just tell my personal river not to flow …

Building great attractions and transportation lines,

Without the comfort stations that will the space define.

It’s an urgency emergency you see.

Gotta pee.”

All cuteness aside, GottaGo! has pushed several initiatives you as restroom providers could echo to improve sanitation access in your communities and encourage partnerships with government to provide and service additional restrooms.

For example:

Build a restroom-mapping app.

The city of Ottawa, pushed by GottaGo!, developed an app that shows users real-time locations of bathrooms, both permanent and portable restrooms. This is the first such mapping program I’ve seen, and if it can be done in Ottawa, it can be replicated anywhere. Show the ottpee app to your local government officials and see if they would be willing to set up a similar app for your city or county. A look at the Ottawa map might show local officials just how few public restroom opportunities exist in your area. Show them how quickly that access could be improved if you placed restrooms at a few parks, boat launches or other areas that are heavily trafficked by pedestrians.

Point out special needs.

GottaGo! effectively argues that many people with physical challenges or disabilities require public restrooms to get out of the house and enjoy a basic quality of life that others take for granted. They point out that 7,000 people in Ottawa suffer with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other incontinence issues and fear visiting public areas with no convenient bathroom facilities. They say it’s a shame that families using parks often resort to having their children relieve themselves behind a bush. Restroom access is important to preserving the dignity of citizens, they say. How is it any different in your hometown?

Improve signage for restrooms.

GottaGo! points out that the few existing public bathrooms are underutilized because few people know where they are. One of their first requests to city officials was to place signs at busy waypoints showing the direction and distance to the nearest public bathroom. They estimated the cost of 20 street-level direction signs at $2,000 to $3,000. As part of a public-private partnership, maybe you could offer to place restrooms and help with a signage program in your city.

Organize a restroom-decorating contest.

GottaGo! partnered with a local arts organization to paint a mural on one of its restrooms at a park splash pad. The artwork brought attention to the restroom, and they received positive feedback from the public. You could contact a school art program or a local arts group to decorate a few restrooms, maybe units you place at an art fair or a music festival. Or donate a few of your well-worn construction units to an arts group to compete for the most interesting mural designs. 

GET THE WORD OUT

As you have probably learned through your business, local governments — and some of your special events customers as well — are slow to realize the extent of portable sanitation needs of the community. They don’t understand how members of the public are suffering when they can’t find a restroom. They don’t see the impact when tourists leave a downtown area sooner than they want to because there are no bathroom facilities. They are blind to the negative impact of restrooms that are overused and neglected.

Maybe you never thought it was in your job description to get out there and lobby for better sanitation in the community. But maybe it should be. And the GottaGo! Campaign in Ottawa is showing that these efforts can make a difference.



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