New York City – Problem Citizens and Visitors to Face Finding Amenities

New York City’s Missing Public Restrooms

Executive Overview

Singapore is a 650 sq km piece of land. It has 29,500 public toilets (from Jack Sim, President of Restroom Association of Singapore email dtd Sunday, April 04, 2004 10:27 PM).  New York City, with a land area of 831 sq km, has 1178 public toilets.  Many comedians have have used the public’s recognition that the sidewalks of New York City often waft a smell of urine.   Jon Stewart recently noted (  that the Cities smoking policy was useful since moving cigarette smoke outside helped mask the urine smell (from The Daily Show 3/16/14).

Rebecca Webber’s article in the Gotham Gazette accurately documents the ‘no place to go when you gotta go’ problem faced by residents and visitors when they head downtown.  In recent years the problem worsened.  Public restrooms have been closed to save money at the same time a primary alternative, ‘ducking into a commercial building’, became a problem as access control was added to improve security.   Now even Fire Stations are locked.

The Privy Council

The Privy Council is a group of New Yorkers who see the need for a working system of public toilets for an otherwise great city. In pursuit of their goal to develop a comprehensive system of free public toilets throughout New York City, they are looking at the following areas:

  • Compiling an inventory of existing facilities throughout the city.
  • Compiling a list of offices, restaurants and other private locations that manage restroom facilities.
  • Conducting a study of comparisons with other municipalities in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Exploring the issue of the advertisement of public facilities
  • Examining the possibility of financial inducements to encourage private businesses to create and/or expand publicly available facilities
  • Assessing the viability of combining with other public necessities
  • Reviewing the role of the Parks Department in providing public toilets.
  • Weighing the impact of free-standing kiosks
  • Engendering public discussion and debate on the issue,
  • Addressing the needs of special- and high-need groups

Please read the Objectives of the Privy Council for additional details.  )

Excerpts from Media

The problem has endured in New York City for more than a century. In 1898, the very first pamphlet by the then-new good government group Citizens Union decried the city’s lack of public toilets.  [deleted text]

…As late as last year, a survey of city residents sponsored by the City Council found that the lack of public toilets was a common complaint, and made the city less livable.  Yet, though now across the globe, more than 600 cities have automatic public toilets — Singapore alone has 750, London 678, and Athens 500 — New York City is still “in the planning stages.”   [deleted text]

…  In the early 1900s, the city accepted the need for public toilets in parks. Robert Moses opened 145 in 1934 alone. The subway system also offered accessible restrooms. By 1940, subway stations offered 1,676 public toilets that were inspected weekly.  But in the middle of the twentieth century, the state of the city’s toilets plummeted, because of vandalism and neglect. Currently, about 1,100 comfort stations are available in the city’s 1,500 parks, according to the Parks Department. In the city’s 468 subway stations, only 78 restrooms remain available to the public  [deleted text]

…  New York State outlawed pay toilets in 1975 in response to the charge that such facilities discriminated against women. Women always needed a stall, while men could make do without, opponents argued.

… A cottage industry disseminates the locations of restrooms in New York City. Internet guides include The Bathroom Diaries, a guide to bathrooms around the world, as well as in New York.   One company, Rovenet Inc., created a program for palm-type computers that can be used anytime and anywhere. The user types in his location and the program lists nearby public restrooms, along with a rating for each.
Gotham Gazette — Public Toilets 15 July 01 by Rebecca Webber

… For more than a decade, city officials have struggled to relieve long-suffering New Yorkers by adding to the streetscape those free-standing lavatories that have become so common in cities from Paris to Chicago. Those efforts always became bogged down in details, like what the toilets should look like and how to pay for them.   Now City Council leaders say they will authorize construction of up to 20 automatic paid toilets when the full Council meets on Wednesday. In doing so, they will be signing off on an ambitious citywide campaign proposed last year by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to spruce up bus shelters, newsstands, street kiosks and even trash cans.   Copyright © 2003, Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. Source:  (

… But whether you lean to the political right or left, there’s at least one aspect of the guide with universal appeal.  “Someone sent us an e-mail saying how she’s been a New Yorker for three years, and the public toilet listing is the greatest listing we have,” Chan said with a …’Even protesters have guide for their needs’  White Plains Journal News – White Plains,NY 8/24/04

Response to Film Makers Request for Support

Metroped was recently contacted by a film-maker in New York in the midst of finishing a documentary entitled “Sidewalk” based on Mitch Duneier’s book of the same name.  Part of the film deals with the problems of not having public toilets almost anywhere in Manhattan.

First let me tell you that the Public Restroom Initiative (PRI) is supported by the not-for-profit corporation Metroped Inc. Metroped is run on a shoe string budget with an all volunteer staff but your documentary falls within our scope of interest. I will try to help you as much as possible. I ask only that provide credit when it is appropriate.

For a video of an APT please click ‘TV Coverage Metrorail Automated Public Toilet’  For a quicker download pick the 56kb version.

Wall Inc, German company that’s makes self-cleaning toilets, has a VHS video. Currently Wall’s products are in Boston. See the first photo at this page pr/support/APT.htm

I am sure they would be happy to supply you with that video. I suspect JCDecaux North America will be providing these devices in NYC. .

In general, these device should make life better for street vendors (SV) but there is an interesting NYC political story that I would be willing to discuss off-record that could have better helped street vendors

A bit more that a year ago I was contacted by a union rep for NYC bus drivers. He described a problem that I suspect is applicable to SV’s. Bus drivers have ‘wait spots’ where they hold to keep the bus from getting ahead of schedule. They normally have enough time for a toilet break. In recent years, and especially after 9/11, office buildings that drivers once used now have security access control which prevents, in some cases, drivers use of their toilet facilities. I expect SV have experienced this same problem. It’s not NYC but more info is available at this web page:   pr/TransitOp.htm.

The following web pages also have information that may be of use for your documentary:

Rebecca Webber’s ‘Public Toilets’ in the 15 July 01 Gotham Gazette has some interesting Stats.

Other news articles are available at the following page but remember this material is for education only and is otherwise copyrighted:   pr/Media/NP_RR.htm

I suspect at least some of the above will be helpful. Remember we’re not looking for thanks we’re looking to get the word out. Not necessarily in your films but please do tell be people about the PRI. With the exception of the Wall Street Journal I have failed to attract any interest by any NYC media.

Steve Stollman started a NYC org called the privy council. ? One of their concerns is the limited availability of public toilets in NYC. I talked with Steve about the problems of SVs less then 24 hours before I got your email. I would have bet my neighbors annoying dog that your email was a result of the phonecon.

IPC Adopted at State Level

For information only please refer to official documents regarding the International Plumbing Code
No confirmation of adoption of 403.6

Published by the 50,000-member organization International Code Council (ICC), whose membership includes all voting members of BOCA, SBCCI, and ICBO (International Conference of Building Officials), the IPC incorporates much of the language of the BOCA National Plumbing Code and the SBCCA Standard Plumbing Code.

403.1 Minimum number of fixtures.  Plumbing fixtures shall be provided for the type of occupancy and in the minimum number shown in Table 403.1. Types of occupancies not shown in Table 403.1 shall be considered individually by the code official. The number of occupants shall be determined the the International Code Council. Occupancy classification shall be determined in accordance with the International Code Council.   See also ICC toilet code sample.

403.6 Customer facilities.  Customers, patrons and visitors shall be provided with public toilet facilities in structures and tenant spaces intended for public utilization.  Public toilet facilities shall be located not more than one story above or below the space required to be provided with public toilet facilities and the path of travel to such facilities shall not exceed a distance of 500 feet (152 m).

403.6.1  Covered malls.  In covered mall buildings, the path of travel to required toilet facilities shall not exceed a distance of 300 feet (91,440 mm).  The required facilities shall be based on total square footage, and facilities shall be installed in each individual store or in a central toilet area located in accordance with this section.  The maximum travel distance to the central toilet facilities in covered mall buildings shall be measured from the main entrance of any store or tenant space.
403.6.2 Pay facilities.  Required facilities shall be free of charge and designated by legible signs for each sex.  Where pay facilities are installed, such facilities shall be in excess of the required minimum facilities.

Question Sent to NYC Building Code Administrator

Is the New York City’s Plumbing Code related to the IPC Code adopted by the State or is it independently developed code. If the latter, does NYC Code include language similar to Para 403.6 ‘Public Facilities’ that is in the State IPC adopted code?

Where are the restrooms in Central Park?

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