Where we are in 2023
Ottawa has a million residents and 10 million visitors every year. How many of them will need to use a public toilet at some point as they go about their day? (trick question)
Access to public toilets in Ottawa in 2023 has not improved much compared with previous years. The city made some progress this year by provid-ing 48 new porta-potties, two in each ward. However, five signs with direc-tions to downtown public toilets that were promised a year ago have not yet appeared.
By the GottaGo count, there are 21 public toilets in downtown Ottawa.
Two are “stand-alone” toilets, located in Major Hill’s Park and to the west of the Centre Block of Parlia-ment Hill – the latter, unfortunately, provides more facilities for men than women, despite research and new building codes that encourage twice as many stalls for women.
Twelve toilets in public buildings are “hidden,” in that they are available for use but there are no signs to tell you they are there and show you the way. Of these, the City of Ottawa is respon-sible for six – at City Hall, the Ottawa Public Library main branch, Byward Market, Arts Court, Ottawa Art Gallery and the Capital Information Kiosk. Got-taGo recommends that the City publi-cize its six public toilets by providing clear external signage and by funding any extra operating costs for cleaning and supplies.
The other six public toilets belong to the federal government and are located at the National Gallery, the National Arts Centre, the Mint, the Supreme Court, the Bank of Canada Museum and Library and Archives Canada. Again, while these toilets are technic-ally available, no external signs are posted, so they are not truly available.
Another seven toilets are in commer-cial or other non-public buildings, as noted in a map distributed by Ottawa Tourism (the Chateau Laurier, World Exchange Plaza, Lord Elgin, Govern-ment Conference Centre, Shaw Centre, Rideau Centre and Ismaili Imamat). In addition, some coffee shops such as Starbucks, Bridgehead and Tim Hor-tons make their toilets available to non-customers, but few have exter-ior signs.
Public Toilets Outside Downtown
The City’s open data set lists a total of 177 locations with a public toilet. How-ever, their existence does not mean they are open and available. Many have limited hours during the day, and many close in the winter.
Toilets in Light Rail Transit Stations
The two Ottawa LRT lines have public toilets in only four of 17 stations
– Tunney’s Pasture, Bayview, Hurdman and Blair. OC Transpo’s plans for the next LRT stages, announced in 2020, include 10 toilets in the next 24 stations
– that will maintain the same ratio of a public toilet in a quarter of the stations. For comparison, Edmonton is the Can-adian champion with toilets in 44 per cent of its LRT stations.
LRT system maps at the entran
ce of LRT stations need to indicate which stations have toilets. There are still no toilets at any of the 19 OC Transpo park-and-ride locations.
Websites and apps such as ottpee. ca, Flush, GoHere, Quench and Toi-letFinder are available for those with smart phones.
Gaps in Toilet Coverage
Signage: The addition of external signs telling people of the existence of a given public toilet would make them truly public. Malls and other public buildings are urged to use toilet signs that are not easily confused with the sign for elevators. GottaGo commends the unambiguous toilet sign at the new Ottawa Art Gallery, which uses an out-line of a toilet seat and is also in braille.
Sidewalk toilets: Ottawa has no permanent public toilets on sidewalks. In contrast, Montreal is building 12 public toilets along busy sidewalks, and about half of these are now in operation.
Parks, bike paths, splash pads: There are over a hundred splash pads, dozens of parks and hundreds of kilo-metres of bicycle and walking paths in Ottawa, many with no toilet facilities. Most of the existing ones are closed from November to April. However, walking and, increasingly, biking con-tinue throughout the winter months.
People with disabilities or health issues and the unhoused: Toilet facili-ties in some older buildings make inad-equate provision for wheelchairs or require users to enter by a back door. Some toilets are not wide enough to roll wheelchairs in and close the door, and some have no press button to open the door. Many toilets do not provide safety for transgendered people who risk harassment using their preferred toilet. People living on the street have no option but to urinate and defecate outdoors, which means sometimes in doorways and alleys when public toi-lets are closed.
City Council faces a deluge of needs and a tight budget. However, a net-work of accessible public toilets is an essential part of public health infra-structure that cannot be ignored.
Based on files from GottaGo!, an advocacy group founded in 2015 by residents who want to see a network of open, free and accessible public toilets in the city.