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Monday, March 24, 2008

The City Finally Figures Out What the Rest of Us Already Know:

posted by on March 24 at 11:45 AM

Automatic Public Toilets (APT) are gross and should go away.


Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has released their study on the problems with the City’s five APT’s—in the Victor Steinbrueck, Hing Hay, Occidental and Waterfront parks, and on Broadway—and are recommending the City remove them to save $4.5 million over the next five years.

Businesses and neighbors hated the dingy, silver toilets, as they were frequently used for drug dealing and prostitution. SPU has recommended the City provide bathroom attendants to businesses who agree to open their facilities to the public.

Now, please enjoy this incredibly educational history of public toilets in Seattle, provided by SPU.

A Brief History of Public Toilets in Seattle
Seattle Public Utilities, March 2008

1895 — City constructs public toilets “to abate existing nuisances” in Capitol Hill.

1907 — City constructs toilets for Pike Place Market.

1909 — City opens what is “believed to be the world’s most luxurious underground toilets” below the pergola in Pioneer Square. The toilets and urinals numbered 47 and after opening were reportedly flushed “5,000 times a day”. Some were pay toilets.

1919 — City declares an “emergency” at the Pike Place Market toilets authorizing additional maintenance and facility renewal.

1920 through at least 1943 — City contracts for “lockdown” of certain toilets to deal with crime and related issues.

after 1945 — City closes the Pioneer Square toilets under the pergola allegedly due to years of abuse and misuse.

1948 — City authorizes bids to install new pay toilets in Belltown and Pike Place Market.

late 1980’s — City faces growing complaints about defecation in the streets and criminal and non-customer use of private restrooms culminating in an outcry for more public toilets in Seattle’s Downtown and urban centers. In response, the City installs 10 portable public toilets (Port-a-Potty) (a total of 14 at the peak).

1994 — City authorizes improvements to the facades of its portable public toilets and to its permanent toilets at the Pioneer Square Fire Station.

2004 — City installs five automated public toilets (APTs) including ones near Pike Place Market, Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square to address public toilet needs.

2004-2005 — City closes its toilets in the Pioneer Square Fire Station and the Aquarium due to misuse and abuse and Freeway Park due to a homicide.

2005-2006 — Seattle’s APTs became a focal point of concern as local merchants to homeless advocacy groups raise issues about illicit activities associated with them and their cost. In response, the City posts a code of conduct, improves lighting, reduces user times and begins a program to “lockdown” its APTs at night and on weekends.

Terlet Photo via Flickr

RSS icon Comments


I don't know the history of Seattle's experiment with these outside toilets so I won't comment on that. I do appreciate that the city tried something. I live in New York and the city does nothing about public facilites. Toilets are a necessity ,but our city pretends they don't exist.

Posted by Mike | March 24, 2008 11:53 AM

What do you bet those business owners will resent drug dealing and prostitution even more when it's directly in front of their store, rather than down the block in a big stinky can?

Posted by Tuna | March 24, 2008 12:02 PM

So they drop a high-priced toilet into Occidental Park and are shocked that it's being used for drugs and prostitution? Seriously? Didn't the rest of us figure that out before they even installed the fucking thing?

Posted by Jason Josephes | March 24, 2008 12:02 PM

you really should be able to take a leak downtown. when the market toilets are closed, there aren't many options but to patronize a business just to use their pisser.

these "dingy silver cans" are infinitely prefereable to what will replace them: revolting, overflowing honey buckets.


wouldn't you?

Posted by max solomon | March 24, 2008 12:07 PM

Once again a good idea is ruined y the scum of society.

Posted by elswinger | March 24, 2008 12:08 PM

THAT'S what they look like?!? It looks like an elevator to Hell.

Posted by Mahtli69 | March 24, 2008 12:21 PM

Reason number umpteen why, until you solve the homeless/transient problem, the bad apples in the bunch will find a way to ruin good ideas.

... though the city didn't help themselves by leaving these things unattended. What did they think was going to happen? Or do they ever think critically about anything they do?

Posted by Gomez | March 24, 2008 12:28 PM

Where do you want me to shoot up anyway?

Posted by PGC | March 24, 2008 12:33 PM

We've had those for a long time down here in SF, and they are constantly in use. I mean, people still shit in my alley and pee on the sidewalks around them, but the toilets are being used... for something.

Posted by Dougsf | March 24, 2008 12:38 PM

I'm sorry to see this. I was a strong advocate of public toilets. I still think they should have permitted advertising on them, which would have defrayed at least some of the cost. But it's sad to see a basically good idea ruined by drug addicts.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 12:38 PM

But really. For people who live on the street, where do you want them to deposit their various excretions? Obviously no one wants it on the street or in the nearest alley. And charging someone with nothing to use a public bathroom means it's back to the street.

There's gotta be a better solution.

Posted by leek | March 24, 2008 12:40 PM

@3, word. As I remember, a few City Council members were gung ho on doing SOMETHING to solve the problem. Despite broad and repeated counseling against these doomed and ridiculously expensive machines, for all the reasons that proved true in the end, they went for it anyway. When technology is not the problem, no one should expect it to be the solution.

Posted by swell | March 24, 2008 12:42 PM

Removing the toilets is a brilliant way to end drug use and prostitution. Clearly, if you remove a popular location for doing such activities, then the perpetrators will see the error of their ways and clean up their act. Because, nobody ever used drugs or turned tricks in Pioneer Square before these toilets showed up.

Posted by Mahtli69 | March 24, 2008 12:51 PM

A better solution would be a nationwide treatment-based drug policy and comprehensive mental health care. Failing that, I think we have to pay an attendant to hover around the toilets. Seems better for the city to build them than rely on businesses though.

Posted by elenchos | March 24, 2008 12:52 PM

@10 - Seattle has had drug addicts since BEFORE the Gold Rush. And we had public bathrooms back then, and we had these places called Flophouses, where people could drunk or stoned and not do it in the streets.

But, instead, we forced them onto the streets and stopped cleaning up the bathrooms.

But, hey, if you don't believe me, just go down to MOHAI or swing by your local library.

FYI, so did Vancouver BC, but they didn't do what we have, so it's not as big a deal there.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 12:53 PM

What we really need is a Web site/text-messaging service that allows you to send your intersection, and then it would reply with a list of the closest unlocked toilets. For instance, if you're on 2nd and Union, it would direct you to the mezzanine level of the new WaMu Center. Nice clean and fresh toilets next to the Starbucks. No key required.

Posted by Dominic Holden | March 24, 2008 1:03 PM

#11 - There are tokens available for free to the homeless for the toilets down here. I imagine this presents it's own set of issues, however. Even the best of us get caught with a turtle peekin', it's not entirely realist to expect this level of bladder-preparedness from people that often cannot take care of themselves at even the most basic level.

Public toilets could work, they just need to figure how to offset more of the expense. There's probably a dozen businesses that cater to chronic inebriates surrounding the public toilet a few blocks from my place - tax single container alcoholic products, funnel that into cleaning up after "quality of life" offenses, including toilet maintenance. Fuckit, I drank in the park twice this beautiful weekend, if my tallboy costs an extra 30 cents to clean up after those that don't, great.

Prostitution and substance abuse needs its own set of solutions, so as much of a joke as the toilets seem, if it's one less dump on my street, the that's fine with me.

Posted by Dougsf | March 24, 2008 1:18 PM

Maybe Seattle need a pisser map lke they got in NYC

Posted by Billy | March 24, 2008 1:25 PM

Remember when the street drunks used to pee on the walls near the clubs downtown? And all the alleys reeked?

I for sure don't want to go back to that.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 2:14 PM

I think they just picked the wrong location or the wrong implementation. Paris has had these toilets for a long time (they cost 0.25 euro last I remember). Plenty of other cities and countries have public facilities with little old ladies at the door who take a nominal fee in exchange for a nice clean place to take a leak.

It's not hard to borrow a solution that will work for our community yet somehow we fucked it up.

Posted by sirlearnsalot | March 24, 2008 2:44 PM

This is just dumb all the way around.

The city installed the toilets, but then made no effort to patrol the areas for crime. What happened was inevitable.

@7Reason number umpteen why, until you solve the homeless/transient problem, the bad apples in the bunch will find a way to ruin good ideas.

This comment was right on! All of these people supporting the "homeless" are completely clueless. It a lifestyle choice that isn't going away until our city government takes some action.

The people have been asking cities to address this issue for years, yet they do nothing.

Posted by Mike in Pioneer Square | March 24, 2008 3:36 PM

@20 - Paris also has attendants at the public restrooms in their parks, FWIW. And they're not free.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 4:21 PM

I don't know if I was "supporting" the homeless per se, but I was certainly saying that they should have bathrooms to use. And I'm also not in favor of any fascist solution to get them off the streets, either. I know! Crazy hippie liberal here!

Oh, sorry, crazy CLUELESS hippie liberal.

Posted by leek | March 24, 2008 5:00 PM

I work a couple blocks from the Pioneer Square public toilet, and nevertheless, just about every day I see dudes pissing in the alley or exchanging thingies as I leave my building.

Posted by poltroon | March 24, 2008 6:53 PM

The problem is not the APTs. It's Seattle's pc pussy attitude toward the human garbage that misuse them. If you didn't let the filth live on the street you wouldn't have to clean up after them.

Posted by ektachrome | March 24, 2008 6:57 PM

@25 yeah lets just gas the homeless, i suppose its the humane way to dispose of garbage. and then when we incinerate the corpses we can have low cost fertilizer for our P-patches.

Posted by vooodooo84 | March 24, 2008 9:09 PM

@25: Try doing what they do sometime, Superman. I'm sure you're way too tough for the streets to be a challenge, right?

Posted by Greg | March 25, 2008 12:11 AM

Wow, I just can't wait until I get to walk through even more human excrement on my way to work! Or the thrill of suddenly encountering someone voiding their bowels in an adjacent alley. Toilets for none!

Posted by lauren in occidental | March 25, 2008 3:26 PM

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