Restrooms in Parks, along Trails and in Public Space

This page contains information about the negative impact when toilet facilities are not available for walkers, bikers and other users of parks, trails and recreation facilities.

Executive Overview

Private and public health advocacy agencies are concerned with the decreasing level of fitness activity and the subsequent increase in obesity in our nation’s population. One approach to addressing this problem has been to identify and remove obstacles to fitness and exercise. While limited, there is evidence that some people hesitate to participate in fitness activities that put them out of range of toilet facilities. For example, physicians often treat those suffering from hypertension by prescribing diuretics and recommending walking. Intuitively one understands that these people will have a problem walking in a park where all the restrooms have been closed for the winter.   A recent municipal survey further documents this concern.

Bike and Pedestrian Trails

While not a major bike issue, the availability of public restrooms is a concern for some bicyclists and walkers, particularly women.  Cold weather shortens the interval between needing a “pit” stop.   Winter is also the time when most public restrooms are closed.   Men, often at variance with ‘civility laws”, can get by, but for women the option is to not ride.

At a minimum portable toilets to be placed by park restrooms that are closed for the winter.   This concept should be an element on the agenda of all caring bicycle, pedestrian and non-motorized advocates.

Additionally, publishers of bicycle route and trail maps should be encouraged to include public restroom location icons.  Where relevant, seasonal and  time-of-day restrictions should be noted.   In a Chicago Suburb certain commercial establishments agreed to be listed as having public restrooms.  Most probably some bike shops would be pleased to have their toilet facilities noted in a trail brochure.

Those responsible for heated facilities near bicycle commuter routes should be encouraged to keep them open year round.   Similarly, facilities that must be closed should have a portable toilet placed near-by.   (Chemical toilets require significantly less service in the winter months)

Organization such as the National Park Service show by their actions that they understand the year-round need their Park and Trail users.   We urge bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations to identify and thank these organizations.

Unfortunately this problem is difficult to document because most people are unwilling to discuss the issue. It does appear, however, that if people are asked to choose from a list, and the list includes public restroom availability, this choice will rank high. It is our goal to encourage those advocacy agencies attempting to identify impediments to fitness to make sure public toilets are included in their survey selection.  Below is information that documents the problem and list discussions with Dr. Kraft of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Municipal Citizen Survey

While not well documented, there is anecdotal evidence that some people avoid physical activities that put them out of range of toilet facilities.   The ETC Institute of Kansas conducts surveys to determine what factors affect people’s willingness to use public parks and trails.  ETC confirmed that when survey respondents are allowed to pick “public restrooms”, that choice typically rates high.  A recent (March to June of 2002) ETC survey conducted for Arlington County Virginia is listed below.   The community attitude and interest survey helped determine citizen usage, satisfaction, needs, and priorities for the parks and recreation system. Based on a list of potential improvements that could be made to parks/facilities, respondents were asked which three (3) improvements they would most like to have made to the parks/facilities they use most often. Drinking fountains, followed by year-round restrooms were the top two choices.

Arlington County Parks & Recreation Survey
Pages 1 & 17 with key points highlighted

Arlington County Parks & Recreation Survey  (Full Report)
If you are an advocate for improving public restroom availability, please advise your elected and public officials of these results.  The survey results can be used directly or as support to ensure ‘public restroom availability’ is an included choice in new surveys.

What Can individuals Do?

Below are letters that resulted when the above survey came to the attention of a County Supervisor.   He recognized that his constituents probably harbored the same concern.  He contacted key Public Officials to assess existing policy.

Broad Letter to Public Officials
(Park, Community & Recreation, Public Schools)
Public School Response
County Park Authority Response

FCPA Needs Assessment Final Report

[insert picture] Cincinnati Ohio

Don’t let this happen in your city.  Please contact your elected officials and let them know you care.

Additional Information

Who are the people most affected
Another innovative solution – Some municipalities reimburse local business establishments that announce their restrooms are open to the public with no requirement to purchase.(2)

Support from the National Center for Bicycling & Walking

Pedestrian Amenities (.pdf 234 KB)
Drinking fountains and public restrooms: Drinking fountains placed at strategic locations can … among pedestrians.Conveniently located restrooms are welcomed by residents and tourists

The Economic Benefits of Bicycle- and Pedestrian-based Tourism
landscape No-cost or low-cost improvements such as shoulders and restrooms that can aid all highway users, and A scale of travel that can enhance the quality of life within the

CenterLines Issue #106
development includes a 3.5 acre park with a shelter, restrooms, kid’s play equipment, courts and playing fields. There is also a paved bike path over the sewer easement. ‘

Creating Walkable Communities – A guide for local governments
Provide furnishings, such as benches, restrooms, drinking fountains, and other similar elements to create more attractive and functional environments for pedestrians.

More Voices of the People

Houston, TX

… director of parks and recreation, says that in response to resident demand, the parking lots will be expanded at both parks, and permanent restrooms will be installed …
Sugar Land plans for additional amenities at Oyster Creek  3/30/04

Scottsdale, AZ 

Shoppers now have convenient, affordable, sturdy structures to park their cars while shopping in downtown Scottsdale.  It is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It even has restrooms and, of course, an elevator.
Downtown Scottsdale adds parking   Deborah Bingham The Arizona Republic Jun. 6, 2005

Rockland, NY

The restroom law• Events covered: Recreational activities, fairs, carnivals, religious gatherings or similar outdoor events.• At least one toilet required for every 100 people in attendance.• Property smaller than 20,000 square feet does not have to have toilet facilities, but any existing toilet facilities must be open and working properly.
Bathrooms required at Rockland events  Journal News White Plains, NY Oct 27, 2005

Dallas, TX

…the temperature climbed to 100 degrees and I drank more liquid than I could sweat away. This became unbearably apparent two miles into a six-mile run on a crowded course with no portable bathrooms. Fortunately, I saw an open coffee shop and darted in for a lingering, air-conditioned restroom break. …  Endurance athletes are making quite a splash these days  By KIMBERLY DURNAN /  Sept 28, ’05
WINSTON-SALEM, NC The chemical toilet at Walkertown Community Park gets mighty cold in the winter.  But if the town council follows through with an idea presented last week, residents who use the park could use a restroom supplied with heat.  Council Member Sarah Welch said she talked to Mark Serosky, the director of the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Department, about providing the restrooms at the park with heat.  “This is something we could do for seniors,” Welch said. “A lot of people, both young and old, like to use the walk at the park for exercise.”
‘Restrooms at Walkertown park may be heated’ By Wesley Young KERNERSVILLE JOURNAL REPORTER Nov 24, 2005

Visitors frustrated by lack of facilities
Detroit News Mar 26 ’02

At last, downtown Geneva visitors will have place to go
Chicago Daily Herald 8/703

Tourists Do “The Pee-Pee Dance” in Mobile [Alabama] by Roy Pope – Mobile Online 11/20/03  …. Every week, hundreds (if not thousands) of adventurous tourists flock to the “City by The Bay” to perform their personal and somewhat hysterical renditions of the classical “Pee-Pee Dance”.   Today, November 20, 2003, nearly 100 youngsters from Chatham Elementary performed in Bienville Square, accompanied by their teachers and parent-supervisors. The performance started early in the afternoon with a couple of children doing “the anxious jitterbug” and singing that favorite tune, “I Can’t Hold It Much Longer”. As the day’s festivities progressed, other students joined in with tears in their eyes. …  … It’s sad, but true – and awfully cruel and inhumane. The City of Mobile invites tour groups to our city, then leaves them in a state of urgency without the benefit of public facilities. I’m talking about “restrooms”. And the cruelest part of the joke that the City of Mobile is playing on our tourists is that there are two restrooms located in Bienville Square, only yards from where these youngsters were standing – but they’re locked!…

…”This is ridiculous. I wonder why we ever come back”, she said with disgust. All I could think was “Why do any tourists ever return to a city that welcomes them with closed public facilities?” [remaining text deleted]

Locked Men’s and Women’s Restroom
Click Photo for source article

Email to R. W. J. Foundation

Email Follow-up to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Discussion

The following is a write-up of a phone conference with the senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Active Living Program, Dr Kate Kraft.Ref: Aug 26 follow-up phone call to our Monday afternoon phonecon.
Dear Kate,

Thank you for yesterday’s follow-up call. I will be contacting Dr. Jones and Nancy Muller and want to make sure I accurately convey what we discussed.

You said we had convinced you that, most likely, some people hesitate to participate in fitness activities that put them out of range of toilet facilities. You are going to make sure that those who are working under the RWJF ‘Active Living’ umbrella recognize that lack of toilet facilities might be an ‘obstacle to fitness’.

We also discussed the need to better document the problem and that any survey must recognize the ‘stigma’ many feel about discussing their need to use the toilet. I can’t think of a better approach then your suggestion that ‘available toilet facilities’ be included in a survey list as one of the choices.

We also discussed the need to have the problem more formally vetted. I was pleased to learn that results of ‘Active Living’ surveys are publicized. We also discussed the value of targeted research to better
document the problem. The Active Living Research headed by Dr. Jim Sallis is a possibility. I also mentioned the existing research done by the National Association for Continence. You indicated the chance for a small grant in the next fiscal year and that normal grant application procedures would be applicable. …  [deleted text]

To: “Kraft, Katherine” <deleted email>
Cc: “Baquilod, Joann” <deleted email>
Sent: Wednesday, August 27, 2003 7:23 AM
Subject: Toilet Facilities & Fitness – Aug 26 follow-up phone call

Historical - for Information Only

If your organization is interested in better documenting the negative correlation between fitness and the lack of public toilet facilities, please consider the following …

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Open Calls for Proposals

Open Calls for Proposals
Title: Active Living Research – Round 3
(formerly Active Living Policy and Environmental Research)
Application Deadline:

Active Living Research is a $12.5 million national program to stimulate and support research that will identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity.
BACKGROUND Physical inactivity is one of the most important modifiable threats to health. Despite the well-documented social, physical and mental health benefits of physical activity, at least 60 percent of adult Americans do not meet the recommendations of the U.S. Surgeon General for accumulating 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity most days of the week. Physical inactivity is estimated to be responsible for more than 200,000 deaths and $77 billion in direct health care costs each year. It is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most pressing health problems. We know that the majority of Americans are insufficiently active, but we do not fully understand why. Some research supports the idea that physical activity has been engineered out of our lives because of changes in how communities and buildings are designed, growing dependence on automobiles, widespread use of labor-saving devices, and sedentary work and recreation patterns. Yet little is known about the impact of these trends or how to counter them to promote physical activity. THE PROGRAM Active Living Research (formerly Active Living Policy and Environmental Studies) is a $12.5-million national program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), created to stimulate and support research that will identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity. Findings are expected to inform environmental and policy changes that will promote active living among Americans. “Active living” is a way of life that integrates physical activity into daily routines. The goal is to accumulate at least 30 minutes of activity each day. Individuals may do this in a variety of ways, such as walking or bicycling for transportation, exercise or pleasure; PROGRAM OVERVIEW (Please refer to specific sections for complete detail.) Purpose Active Living Research is a $12.5-million national program to stimulate and support research that will identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity. Findings are expected to inform environmental and policy changes that will promote active living among Americans. Eligibility Criteria (page 8) Preference may be given to applicants who may be either public entities or nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Selection Criteria (page 8) Proposals must address one of the following topics: 1. Environmental characteristics and physical activity in under-studied populations. 2. Impact of changes in community environments or policies on physical activity. Complete selection criteria are described on page 8. Total Awards – Round 3 Up to $3 million is available in this third round of funding for research grants. Two cycles of funding are available in Round 3: . Cycle One for proposals requesting up to $600,000 total for up to three years. . Cycle Two for proposals requesting up to $150,000 total for up to two years. An applicant may apply as a New Investigator in either cycle of funding. In addition, funds are available for Dissertation Awards. Details on additional funding can be found on page 12. Deadlines (page 15) February 18, 2004 (1 p.m. PST) – Deadline for receipt of brief proposals for Cycle One. April 15, 2004 – Cycle One applicants will be notified if invited to submit full proposals.  June 15, 2004 (1 p.m. PDT) – Deadline for receipt of invited full proposals for Cycle One. September 1, 2004 (1 p.m. PDT) – Deadline for receipt of full proposals for Cycle Two. How to Apply (page 10) All proposals other than those requesting dissertation funding must be submitted through the RWJF Grantmaking Online system. For detailed information and submission guidelines, please contact the
National Program Office or visit the program’s Web site: Active Living Research Julie Weitzel, Research Coordinator Phone: (619) 260-5539 E-mail:

Source: Email From: “Robin Brandt” <deleted email>
To: “America Walks (E-mail)” <deleted email>
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 5:27 AM
Subject: Robert Woods Johnson: Active Living Research – Round 3

Strengthening & Caring for America's National Parks

President George Bush – Strengthening and Caring for America’s National Parks

… we want there to be a visitor’s center that’s worth going into. We want the toilets to flush…. … so that the people, when it comes to using their own park, are able to do so in a comfortable way. Audio
Office of the Press Secretary Aug 15, 03

Dr. Wanda Jones has noted research showing that obesity is an important risk factor for incontinence among women.  The limited research available indicates that women afraid of bladder leakage are less likely to report engaging in physical activities that put them out of range of toilet facilities.”
Email from Dr. Jones dtd Jul 25, 2003

Allen Muchnick
Virginia Bicycling Federation

… the availability of public toilets is important for bicycling. Please let me know how the Virginia Bicycling Federation can raise awareness of the issue or can support public toilet facilities at specific locations.

In response to surveys and in unsolicited comments, users of  the Washington & Old Dominion Trail have identified public toilets as an important park amenity.  Consequently, the Friends of the W&OD Trail is placing rented porta potties at new locations along that 45-mile trail to eliminate long gaps without public toilets.
ARA email dtd January 30, 2002

Trenton,NJ, …”Ever since we’ve asked this question, ‘restrooms’ is always Number 1 …
‘A plan for the future of parks’ The Times of Trenton 11/5/07

Topeka,KS … in addition to the concrete, skaters complain about the lack of a restroom nearby. Park regulars say it is not uncommon for kids to urinate in public and it causes an unpleasant smell.
WIBW-TV ‘Skaters Complain New Skate Park Isn’t Adequate’  6/20/08

A Collier County (FL) families using the public park next to Corkscrew Elementary are finding creative ways to get their kids to the restroom.
Parents say when you need to go to the bathroom and notice that there is nowhere to go, it can be a problem for the kids.
WBBH  ‘Parents, kids have the no bathroom blues’

“That’s wonderful,” said Ralph Appy, an official with the American Youth Soccer Organization in San Pedro.  Currently only temporary restrooms are available on the property. Permanent restrooms, Appy said, will be especially appreciated by the program’s many “soccer moms.”
The Daily Breeze ‘Parks’ overseers make rare trip to San Pedro’ Oct 03, 2006  Torrance, CA

Mansfield residents think they live in a great place and there is above 70 per cent satisfaction with the majority of council service areas. The largest positive swings in the council’s latest survey are in parks, gardens, public toilets and playgrounds…
ABC Regional Online  4/ 25/06

Slemenda said they had met with the Bicycle Advisory Committee about including parking and a public bathroom but it is still unclear whether that bathroom will be open on weekends when the rest of the facility is closed.
Lexington Minuteman, MA 6/29/06

“There’s not enough restrooms, especially for some of the older people who like walking on the bike trail,” said John Jeskey. “It would be nice to have rest rooms in the middle and some on each end.”
Martins Ferry, OH Times Leader 7/26/06

Letters to Newspapers

Close restrooms? Moms, say no

Do you know what stay-at-home moms do to keep sane during the week? They take their kids to the park to meet with friends and play groups. Do you know what would make those same moms totally insane? If the city decides to close the park bathrooms.

The proposal to close neighborhood park bathrooms during the week is totally shameful. Walking home to go the bathroom is not an option for a 4-year-old who has to go now. And it’s not just the kids who have to use the restrooms ASAP. Has the person who proposed this policy ever been six months pregnant?

To take away the bathrooms(especially right when the summer is starting) would be a real blow for San Jose moms and their kids.
Maria Escamilla McPhail  San Jose
The Mercury News CA  5/14/04

As a mother of three children under the age of 5, I was appalled to read about the city leaders saving money at the expense of the children. Closing the park restrooms would cripple the playtime and spirit of San Jose children.

Families are not the only people who utilize the restrooms. I have noticed that delivery drivers and postal workers also use the facilities. How will this impact their ability to do their jobs?

I urge city leaders to explore this issue further before literally leaving us all without a pot to pee in.
Shannon Jones,  San Jose
The Mercury News CA  5/14/04
Opinion Question: Should we have more natural parks

“Walking parks with trails, picnic tables. We need toilets at all the parks you take kids”
Jennifer Damaskek Mt Vernon VA.

Where can a person go to use the bathroom after 9 p.m.? We were just wondering if the park is open until 11 p.m., why are the bathrooms locked up so early? It wasn’t even dark out yet. If Escanaba is so interested in tourism, why would the public restrooms be locked by 9 p.m. at a public park by the lake?
Letter to ED Escanaba Daily Press – Escanaba, MI 7/1/06



Contact Us

American Restroom Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 21237
Catonsville, MD 21228

Phone:  800-247-3864

An independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2004

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