Pedestrian Pit Stops: Toronto’s Public Washroom Wasteland

Male and female washroom symbols with crossed legs

How far can you go without going? Image: under Creative Commons CCo

How far can you go without going?

As a walker, I know the drill: use the bathroom before going out the door. But sometimes that strategy just isn’t enough. Especially as I get older!

Have you ever really needed to get to a bathroom while walking in Toronto – and not been able to find one? It seems to be a near-universal experience. But does it need to be?

I think that the lack of public washrooms in Toronto discourages people from longer trips on foot that are not tied to shopping or eating out. Can’t we do something about it?

Tweet: #Pedestrians Need Pit Stops! #Toronto needs more #public washrooms! @johntory @torontocomms @topublichealth #thewalkingcommuter me in asking City Hall to increase the number of public washrooms in Toronto.

Click to tweet “Pedestrians need Pit Stops! Toronto needs more public washroomsto let our mayor know that public washrooms are a public health need – not a luxury.

Outdoor sign for public restrooms

Where are the public restrooms in Toronto? Image: under Creative Commons CCo

Where have all the toilets gone?

Once plentiful, public washrooms are now an endangered species. Over a hundred years ago, public washroom facilities in Toronto and other cities were common. They were built in response to an unsightly and messy public health hazard: many people were relieving themselves outside on public or private property.

At first welcomed as a civilized public amenity, public toilets eventually became a problem. Cleaning and maintaining the facilities was a big job. There was increasing concern about safety – because of loiterers, vandals, drug dealers and people having sex – and in response, facilities were closed.

These days, finding a public restroom in Toronto is a fair challenge. Standalone public washrooms are very rare. Those in parks are usually closed most of the year.

Are public washrooms business’ business?

The way I see it, it’s simple:

  • Businesses provide washrooms for the use of customers.
  • Governments SHOULD provide public washrooms for the use of citizens.

When the public washrooms of a century ago were dismantled, the responsibility of providing restrooms for the general public was shrugged off to business. Is that fair to business? And should making a token purchase at a coffee shop or restaurant be a citizen’s only restroom option?

It’s a safe bet that if you’re out for more than an hour or two, you’re probably going to need to use the toilet.

The City of Toronto has very few public toilets to serve a population of almost three million. That needs to change.

Are public washrooms a human right?

We all have basic human rights. Do they extend to public washroom facilities to accommodate a basic human need?

The Portland-based organization Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) states on its website: “Toilet availability is a human right.”

I am not an expert on human rights. But I’m not the only one who thinks cities need public washrooms for its citizens. Right now, there are many campaigns underway around the world to lobby for more public washrooms. Here are four news stories from Canada:

Who suffers most from “bathroom insecurity?”

For some of us, not being able to find a bathroom when we need one is uncomfortable and inconvenient – though we can wait for a bit and it does us little harm. (Watch this TedEd video to learn about the effects of holding it in).

But for other folks, not having “bathroom security” to answer the call of nature when they’re away from home means choosing to stay in rather than go out. This is obviously not healthy.

Here are a few examples of people who have pressing need for easily available restroom facilities:

  • those with bladder/bowel control conditions
  • pregnant women
  • young children
  • the elderly
  • those taking certain kinds of medication

Wiping out Toronto’s washroom deficit

Toilet with flushing bowl

The time for Toronto to plan and build more public washrooms is now. Yes, public washrooms cost money. All amenities have a cost. But the alternative isn’t working for citizens, nor is it fair to businesses.

  • Let’s create a more inclusive and healthy society.
  • Let’s eliminate stigma for those who need a washroom more frequently.
  • Let’s stop ignoring this basic bodily function and ask City Hall for more public washrooms in Toronto.

Tweet: #Pedestrians Need Pit Stops! #Toronto needs more #public washrooms! @johntory @torontocomms @topublichealth #thewalkingcommuter to tweet the message “Pedestrians Need Pit Stops! Toronto needs more public washrooms to send a message to City Hall.