The National Mall

The National Mall Washington D.C.

The Mall is a place where visitors exercise their First Amendment rights in protest, soak in the grandeur of monuments to the nation’s great leaders, pay their respects at memorials to fallen soldiers or simply take a stroll.   If only they could easily find a place to relieve themselves.  “Restrooms,” or the lack thereof, is the No. 1 complaint fielded.
For Starters, Mall Visitors Just Want More Bathrooms  Washington Post 11/16/06; Page B01

The Lincoln Memorial

In in a speech last year describing the need to strengthen and care for our National Parks, the President George Bush noted that people expect toilets (1) when they visit our national parks. His request is not at variance with the National Park Service (NPS) own National Capital Region requirements(2).


Free standing facility north of reflecting pool

On the National Mall in Washington D.C. the National Park Service for the most part meets the toilet amenities need of its visitors.  There are full-time toilets available at the major memorials and smaller free standing kiosks  type restroom at key locations away from the memorial. The NPS also has written requirements for provisioning portable sanitation units when Special Events are held on the Mall(2).

The black dots on the map note the locations of permanent restrooms that are typically available every day of the year and for a good portion of the day .  As can be seen, the western half of the Mall and East Potomac Park. To the east NPS most likely relies on visitors using the facilities available within the many museums.  Significant visitors traffic can be seen strolling Presidents Park (White House) well into the evening.  There are restroom in the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion at the northeast of the the Ellipse (blue dot).  Some years ago this facility was kept open late enough to match visitor traffic.  Currently it is sometimes locked as early as 3:45pm.   White House police say they direct desperate visitors to the Willard Hotel.

Sidewalk between 14th and 16th Street Sunday July 11th 2004 at 9:00AM

On the right is a photo taken before any Mall buildings were open.  There were no special events this weekend but, as is often the case during off-hours, there were  many visitors.
With the exception of the two portable sanitation units shown, at this time of day there were no building restrooms available between the Capitol and 16th Street.

The only toilet facilities available were two portable sanitation units, but unfortunately they were quite literally full.

Further east near the 12th street area of the Mall a construction portable toilet serves workers at a nearby work-project.  The detail photo shows the toilet door is pad-locked.  Often portable sanitation units (porta-potties) on the mall have locks to keep them from being used by the general public and it is a further indications that visitors need help

Interim Solutions

Well maintained portable sanitation units, discretely placed but within view of a museum security staff.
Provide off-set funding or security staffing to extend the hours of the National Gallery Sculpture Garden.
Provide off-set funding to allow access to building restroom out-side of normal hours of operation.

Long Term

What will be the hours of operation of the new Capitol Center?  If necessary, implement procedures that allow restroom availability outside the normal staffing times.


  1. White House Office of the Press Secretary Strengthening and Caring for America’s National Parks Aug 15, 03
  2. National Park Service – National Capital Region Requirements for Special Events Held on Parkland
    from Part 1 Section 7 Comfort Facilities:   If attendance is expected to exceed the capacity of nearby NPS public comfort facilities, or if none exist in or near the requested park area, the Permittee must provide portable, temporary toilets with sufficient capacity to accommodate anticipated attendance.  The general guideline is a minimum of one (1) portable toilet per three hundred (300) people.
    Click here for the Full Document.

Tourists often complain about the lack of restrooms
Park Service Seeks Ideas for a Mall Makeover
Washington Post 11/1/06; Page B01



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