By Joan Kuyek
Public toilets represent society’s finest aspirations for responsible civic behaviour. A great city has great public toilets.
The GottaGo! campaign is celebrating a number of successes since it started just over two years ago, but there is still a long way to go before relief.
GottaGo! is a completely volunteer organization and its campaign advocates for a network of open, accessible, safe and easy-to-find public toilets in Ottawa. It uses a combination of research projects, student placements, lobbying and advocacy, and making its presence felt with a strong media campaign. GottaGo! started with the following suite of proposals to deal with the obvious need for this network:
- Provide signage for and an interactive map of existing toilets indicating when they are open and what services they provide;
- Increase the hours and improve the design of existing toilets in parks and other public spaces to improve safety, security and accessibility;
- Ensure that major transportation hubs like those in the LRT have public toilets;
- Create new toilets where required, and make them part of all community design plans.
As of May this year, we have seen these changes for the better:
Toilets in LRT Stations
The City has agreed to have toilets at the Bayview and Hurdman stations on the proposed Light Rail Transit system and to include them at major hubs in Phase 2 of the rapid transit system. This reverses a unanimous Council decision made in June 2011 that foolishly accepted a “no toilets” recommendation for LRT station designs.
As a result of a GottaGo! student project mapping the GPS (global positioning system) location of all city toilets, Ottawa now has a toilet map and the City’s open data program has the location of the 190 “public-facing” toilets with some accessibility data (ratings on a scale of 0 – 3) and seasonal hours of operation. Three private app developers have now created apps with this data, including www.ottpee.ca.
Carleton University students in the Master of Social Work program independently assessed some 92 municipally funded toilets. Carleton released the study report, “Flushing Inequality” on May 4. The toilets were found to be sadly lacking. The research found that:
- Although assessed during standard operating hours, 45 per cent of the public toilets were unavailable, due either to seasonal or daily closures;
- 85 per cent lacked signage outside of the facility indicating the presence of a public toilet;
- Only 4 per cent of toilets were equipped with biohazard waste disposal units;
- 63 per cent of public toilets that were deemed to be “wheelchair accessible” posed at least one accessibility barrier;
- Only 21 per cent were equipped with a gender-neutral or family facility; and
- Among public toilets located within 100 metres of a transit stop, 25 per cent were closed to the public.
Ongoing advocacy for more toilets in public parks and playgrounds, or at the very least for a longer operating season, has hit a wall with budget cuts and freezes in the last budget. Despite a report from GottaGo! researcher Kristina Ropke about the crying need for a public toilet in Dundonald Park, no toilet has been provided and park users are expected to rely on the new Tim Horton’s across Somerset Street.
This summer, GottaGo! will pay for a portable toilet at Harrold Place splash pad in Carlington. The porta-potty will be wheelchair accessible, painted by local artists and cleaned more than once a week. Thousands of children with their caregivers visit this park every summer, but there is no toilet. Neighbours have seen children peeing and defecating in the park and many people talk about the “bladder leash” that keeps them from enjoying their time there. Despite support from the councillor and the community association, the City could not find the $100 a month it costs to install a portable toilet; $500 for the season. We will use this experience to lobby for more toilets in seasonal parks.
Over the next year, we will step up our lobbying of the City to act on the findings of the Flushing Inequality project, particularly around directional signage, longer hours and improved accessibility. We will continue to demand a City policy that requires public toilets at all major transit stops and Park-and-Ride stations, and in the plans for new developments.
Joan Kuyek is chair of the core team for the GottaGo! campaign for more and better public toilets in Ottawa.