Pop-up urinals down the drain? [updated]

April 17, 2008 at 12:29 pm 7 comments

UPDATE, December 14, 2009: The City is tracking the success of our new permanent non-pop-up urinal installed in September 2009 at the corner of Pandora and Government Street. Will it be used enough to make a difference? Will neighbours and business owners tolerate the sight of it? Will others be installed elsewhere? We will soon find out.

Don Denton, Victoria News photo
Photo courtesy Victoria News

Times Colonist story here.

UPDATE, March 23, 2009: The new Mayor and Council have included urinals (not the pop-up variety as yet) as part of the solution to late night issues, which in turn is one of the new administration’s seven priorities.

UPDATE, December 24: Since a few people are arriving here after researching the topic of pop-up urinals I’ll update by saying the City has killed the idea for now due to budget, warranty and installation challenges.

UPDATE, April 23: I have been assured by the City that the pop-up urinal plan is still going ahead as promised — yes, there are challenges, but none that threaten the project.

The Times-Colonist reports this morning that the City’s plans to install two pop-up urinals appears doomed:

[Bastion Square Revitalization Association President Jaime] Tiampo said city staff were looking for locations in the square for the urinals, but businesses didn’t want them in front of their doors and the city didn’t want them open in the middle of the square where they would less likely be used.

Mike Hill, the city’s downtown co-ordinator, said purchase and liability problems may quash the idea entirely.

Last year city council voted to purchase the European-made urinals that rise out of the sidewalk at night when late-night bar-goers are inclined to urinate in public. By day the urinals are recessed flush with the pavement surface, leaving pedestrian traffic unimpeded.

The only manufacturer of the urinals is in Europe and there are liability and other purchase issues around getting the product there, said Hill.

“It’s turned out to be more complex than we planned.”

I was ambivalent about the pop-up urinal idea. They have been called sexist (women generally can’t use them, although men are the primary culprits when it comes to public urination). They are also expensive to purchase, install, operate and maintain. The temporary ones placed at various locations to test the idea proved popular.

So what’s the solution to the rivers of urine that flow down City sidewalks every weekend? Partly it will be education, reminding bar patrons of the niceties of living in a civil society or suffer the consequences of a hefty fine. Perhaps we should harken back to a low-tech solution–the classic European Pissoir.

Entry filed under: City Hall, social issues, Uncategorized, urban design.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gumgum  |  April 17, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    What the city really needs is a public washroom accessible in the day time as well as the night. Imagine being a tourist scrabbling for a place to piss, only to find nothing.
    Europe has had figured out for ages now. Put an attractive looking public washroom smack dab in the middle of a busy square to prevent any funny business and to make it easily found.
    A permanent one in the middle of Bastion Square would work.
    One of those automated, self-cleaning ones that have a 20 minute time limit – and the doors open, would be ideal. And they’re not that big either.

  • 2. robertrandall  |  April 18, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Thanks, gumgum. There was a story recently out of Vancouver that their new automated toilets are successful, yet City crews still had to maintain it four times a day to ward off abuse. So much for automation.

  • 3. Yule Heibel  |  April 18, 2008 at 5:14 am

    @ gumgum & Rob: did you see the article in today’s Vancouver Sun, Public loo lives up to expectations? From that piece:

    The automated, self-cleaning toilet under the SkyTrain station at Main and Terminal, which will be a year old a week Friday, has been used 22,000 times.

    I’m pleasantly surprised,” said David Struthers, operations manager for CBS Outdoor in Vancouver, whose job includes supervising the toilet for CBS Decaux under a 20-year street furniture contract with the city.

    The toilet has seen some minor vandalism and drug use, but generally it is performing as expected.
    The second automatic toilet, at Davie and Richards adjacent to Emery Barnes Park, was also working well until it was vandalized in January and some wiring was pulled out.

    The company is waiting for a technician from France to fix the French-made public toilet, which has a number of computerized sensors. It is expected to be back in operation soon.

    The city ordered eight of the toilets in 2006 after concerns about the lack of public toilet facilities in downtown Vancouver, especially in the Granville Street entertainment district and the Downtown Eastside, where public defecation and urination generated frequent complaints.

    So far, the city is happy with the two-toilet test period.
    The street furniture contract, now in its fifth year, calls for 17 toilets to be supplied and installed on Vancouver streets over a 10-year period, with CBS Decaux paying for operation and maintenance.

    Initially, Judd said, people were concerned the automated facilities would attract prostitution and drug addicts.

    “Prostitution hasn’t materialized,” he said.

    As for drug addicts, CBS Decaux maintenance workers, after finding some discarded needles at the Main and Terminal toilet, temporarily installed black lights to prevent addicts from seeing their veins to inject drugs.

    The toilets are timed so a person cannot stay inside longer than 12 minutes and there is a two-minute warning before the door opens.

    After the user leaves, the door locks and the self-cleaning begins: the toilet bowl retracts into the wall, where the bowl is sprayed, sanitized and dried, and five floor nozzles spray and clean the metal-grate flooring.

    Judd said the city expects the remaining six automatic toilets to be installed this year, on the north side of Robson, west of Richards; at Pigeon Park on the northwest corner of Carrall and Hastings; on the northwest corner of Main and Powell outside the fire hall; on the west side of Homer, just south of Dunsmuir; on the north side of Davie, west of Thurlow; and on the north side of Nelson between Howe and Granville.

    Full article here.

  • 4. gumgum  |  April 18, 2008 at 7:57 am

    Meanwhile in Seattle:

    “Downtown Seattle automatic toilets’ days may be numbered
    Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle)

    The five automatic public toilets in downtown Seattle are “magnets for crime” and “not a cost-effective solution,” according to a Seattle Public Utilities report that recommends getting rid of the facilities.

    The SPU report says the automatic toilets, which are self-cleaning and have a 10-minute maximum use time, have “allowed drug use and dealing, alcohol use and prostitution to occur inside them.” They were installed four years ago in Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, the International District, Pike Place Market and along the Seattle waterfront. All five cost the city a total of about $760,000 to operate a year.

    In a 21-page report that includes a “brief history of public toilets in Seattle,” Chuck Clarke, director of Seattle Public Utilities, recommends to the Seattle City Council that “removing these automatic public toilets will provide a safer environment for the use of public toilets to residents of Seattle who need them.”

    The city can opt out of the contract with Northwest Cascade on April 1, after paying a $570,000 cancellation fee and removal costs of $250,000. “

  • 5. gumgum  |  April 18, 2008 at 7:57 am

    ^That article was published this march.

  • 6. robertrandall  |  April 18, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Thanks for that. I’ve been hearing grumbling about the Seattle toilets for a while.

    It seems the most successful model is the old-fashioned washroom with full-time attendants used in downtown Vancouver. I’m sure there are former street people willing and able to take on this job and it probably wouldn’t cost more in labour than having unionized City workers maintain an “automated” toilet four times a day. People are safer and behave better when they’re around other people.

    Why is it that the most cutting-edge solutions to urban design are 100 years old?

  • 7. gumgum  |  April 19, 2008 at 9:16 am

    I think Seattle’s problem might have been one of spreading its assets too thin, too quickly. Also I know that some of those locations are havens for the homeless and the drug culture. The the type of public facility might be deflecting the issue with regards to reasons for its lack of success. After all: if they work for one city and not the other, what other conclusion can once come up with other than location being the problem?
    I wouldn’t rule out the automated toilet just yet.


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