A bill to open more public restrooms could soon pass the New York City Council, helping residents and tourists alike.
When nature calls, no one wants to be in the middle of Times Square.
“I had to go to Central Park to find public toilets because I couldn’t find anything else,” said Camilo Vargas, a Colombian tourist. “Even in public restaurants, it was a bit difficult to find the toilets.”
New York City has only 16 toilets per 100,000 people.
“I was in Times Square shopping with my sister, and I almost peed myself,” said Teddy Siegel, founder of @Got2GoNYC on social media sites.
The city ranks 93rd in the United States for public restrooms per capita, according to a survey by nonprofit organization The Trust for Public Land.
But that could soon change. The city council is trying to take the first step in decades to build more public toilets.
“It’s a plan to add at least one new public bathroom in every zip code in New York,” said Mark Levine, borough president of Manhattan.
Efforts to tackle the lack of bathrooms come after massive closures in the early days of the pandemic. All 76 metro toilets have been closed and local businesses have locked their toilets, making it even more difficult for anyone to find a toilet.
Looking at the big picture, there are 8.4 million people living in New York City, not even counting the 60 million who visit each year, with just 1,103 public restrooms available to them.
“It is simply unacceptable that a basic human right and every bodily function is now a privilege,” Siegel said. “It shouldn’t be like this.”
After finding herself in a dire situation in Times Square, Siegel decided to take matters into her own hands.
Siegel was turned away by several companies and was eventually allowed to use a McDonald’s restroom – only after buying a bottle of water.
Inspired by her own experience, she created her TikTok account @got2gonyc.
She posts videos about accessible bathrooms around the city and shares a link with more than 500 crowdsourced restroom addresses, even sending codes to access retailers’ bathrooms.
“I just decided to create a Google Maps listing so there was a place for everyone to go to find all of these accessible bathrooms,” Siegel said.
“This is more than a public health crisis; it’s also an equity crisis,” Siegel said.
It is a crisis that affects the most vulnerable.
Juan de la Cruz, emergency relief director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said the city needed permanent toilet relief for the roughly 4,000 people living on the streets.
“We provide restrooms for people,” de la Cruz said. “Toilet [are]available from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., but there is always a greater need for more hours available and more toilets available.”
He says people face “quite a lot” of discrimination when trying to find toilets.
“Some of the people we serve are, for lack of a better word, visibly homeless, and some people try not to allow them access to toilets,” he said.
Levine, co-sponsor of the council bill, says the legislation has majority support. It’s a program that could cost the city millions.
“I don’t think we should let cost be the barrier here,” Levine said. “It can be done. It’s a good investment, and either way, it’s imperative. We have to find the resources in the well to do it.”
In the meantime, Siegel is using his time to defend the bill. She says she hopes for a better New York City.
“It is ultimately the city’s responsibility to provide bathrooms for its residents, and they must also be free and hygienic,” Siegel said.
The bill could pass through city council by the end of September.