NYC could get more public restrooms under this new bill

Each zip code may get a new self-cleaning toilet.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
Editor, Time Out New York
Photograph: Shutterstock

There's nothing worse than having to go really badly and not being able to find a restroom in NYC. It's one of the city's main downfalls for locals and tourists alike.

Some of us have been so bothered by the lack of open toilets that we've created a map of all the bathrooms up for public use in NYC and a TikTok account that documents semi-public restrooms.

The toilet desert may finally be no more if a bill in New York City Council is approved. Introduced on Thursday by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Council Member Rita Joseph, the bill would require the Parks Department and the Department of Transportation to identify at least one location in each zip code that would be suitable for installing a public, self-cleaning bathroom and create a report on the logistics including what it would cost and how they'd do it safely. 

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The report would need to be completed by June 1, 2023 but the city would not be required to build these bathrooms under the bill, according to amNewYork, which first reported on the bill.

"The goal is to open new bathrooms, particularly of the type that can be placed on sidewalks or other public spaces, that often are self-cleaning—it’s a technology in place all over the world,” Levine told the publication. "New York City is way behind other cities in America and in the world where these things are long, established parts of the urban landscape. And to me, it’s the renewed focus on public health that makes this more urgent than ever."

According to Levine and Joseph, 92 of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. have more bathrooms per capita than the five boroughs.

Most NYC zip codes currently have at least one public restroom but many of them are "closed indefinitely or are inaccessible," the officials say. Pair that with the bathroom closures across the subway system during the pandemic, which still hasn't ended, and there's a severe lack of toilets.

A deal with JC Decaux from 2006 to install 20 automatic public toilets has only seen five installed so far with two more installations promised "soon," according to The City.

"We’re actually going backward on access to public bathrooms now, and we want to jumpstart this and get it moving in the right direction," Levine added.

Having access to clean bathrooms is a human rights issue and an issue of inequity, according to the lawmakers. Not having enough means New Yorkers who are homeless, elderly, pregnant, disabled, menstruating or who have other medical conditions are being put at risk. Officials say it "alarmingly contributes to the spread of contagious diseases including COVID-19 and Hepatitis A."

"Public restrooms will help people take care of their fundamental needs with dignity while simultaneously keeping our public spaces sanitary," Joseph said in a statement.

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