Skip to Content
Porcelain New York

Holy Crap: City Council Aims to Build Thousands of Public Toilets Across NYC

A new bill would direct NYC to create a total of 4,200 public toilets by 2035.

A clean public toilet in Sarah Roosevelt Park. (Hell Gate)

They're not holding it any longer.

On Thursday, a group of city councilmembers will introduce a bill that would require New York City to come up with an actual plan to install many more public toilets—thousands over the next 12 years.

"This is really an issue of equity and justice. It's been a long time coming, and the City knows that we need to be doing this," the bill's main sponsor, Brooklyn City Councilmember Sandy Nurse, told Hell Gate. "It's just never been a part of any strategic planning process. There's never been a mandate for it. And we think that's the reason why it continues to be deprioritized."

Nurse's bill would amend the City charter to require the government to issue four-year plans built around the purpose of "establishing and maintaining a public bathroom network," one that provides 1 toilet per 2,000 residents by 2035. According to Nurse, New York currently has around 1,100 public toilets, one public bathroom per 7,700 people. To get this ratio up to 1 toilet per 2,000 people—or around 4,200 total—the city will need to create another 3,100 toilets, either by installing new ones, or repurposing existing restrooms that are supposed to be public but are currently out of reach, like in a privately-owned public space. The newly-created "chief public realm officer" would be accountable for executing the plan.

There are two main reasons why the City has struggled to provide public relief in the past—money and NIMBYism. The restrooms built by the Parks Department, which provides the lion share of the City's public toilets, cost millions of dollars to build and years to plan. Even when the City has the toilets in hand and has picked the neighborhoods to put them in, residents of those neighborhoods have been able to stop their installation. The dozen or so portable sidewalk loos Mayor Bloomberg ordered years ago are still sitting in a warehouse.

The use of the word "toilet" in the bill is deliberate. "It's not asking for one of those big comfort stations," Nurse explained, referring to the large brick restrooms built and maintained by the Parks Department. "We're saying in this bill, we need a simple structure that can be put all over the city and in a lot of settings that will streamline and make efficient the process for siting and constructing toilets." One design might look like the standalone "Portland Loo" that is currently being put in Nurse's district.

However, Nurse said that these toilets would ideally have amenities that current public restrooms do not.

"Recently, I went to use a restroom, and I use a menstrual cup. And there's no sink in most of New York City's public Parks bathrooms," Nurse said. "There's no sink inside of the stall. So if you're emptying a menstrual cup, what do you do? It's embarrassing. It makes you feel shameful. And it's just not acceptable."

For those who would try to block the new public toilets by invoking drug usage and the unhoused, Nurse pointed out that providing public bathrooms is a way of ensuring a measure of public dignity for all New Yorkers, in addition to making neighborhoods cleaner.

"We have easily, every night, thousands of people living on the street. They need a place to go, whether we like it or not. And if they don't go in a bathroom, they're going on the street," Nurse said. "So we really need to be focused on some common sense solutions." 

The legislation will be introduced during the council's stated meeting on Thursday afternoon, and is complementary to the bathroom bill passed earlier this year and sponsored by Brooklyn Councilmember Rita Joseph, which requires the City to issue a report on the state of public restrooms by the end of 2023. 

We asked the Mayor's Office if they would support the new bill and will update if we receive a response.

"The pros are, we have a cleaner, more livable city. A more just city," Nurse said. "The cons are, we've got to chalk up more money for maintenance and capacity and that's something we should already be doing in the first place."

Update: This story was updated to reflect the correct number of public toilets that would need to be created or repurposed in order to reach the ratio required under the bill.

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

See all posts