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Porcelain New York

Mayor Eric Adams Says the Public Can Pee Freely at City Hall

The Adams administration announced a slow, steady dribble of new public restrooms across New York City.

Mayor Adams at the bathroom presser.

(Hell Gate)

You can't fight City Hall, but you can pee there.

At a press conference on Monday announcing a slow, steady dribble of new public restrooms across New York City, Mayor Eric Adams declared that members of the public are welcome to use the stellar facilities at City Hall.

"City Hall is a public building," Adams said. "It's the people's house, it's not my house. And if the people need the people's house for their restroom facilities, I don't see why they can't." 

The mayor's proclamation was notable because City Hall is located near one of the three zip codes in all of New York City that don't have a single public restroom, according to a legally mandated report issued by the Adams administration last year.

That same report found that the city has a total of 1,066 public restrooms, not including those provided by state and federal agencies or those found in private businesses. (That figure does include privately operated public spaces that are required to maintain public toilets.) 

Mayor Adams was outside the recently renovated public bathrooms at Frederick Johnson Playground in Harlem on Monday to announce that the City was going to build 46 new restrooms and renovate 36 more—over the next five years. The Adams administration has also pledged that over the next two years, it will finally install the 14 prefabricated toilets bought more than 20 years ago by the Bloomberg administration that have sat in storage because of pure NIMBYism.

While any and every new and newly opened public restroom is a welcome development, the pace at which these restrooms will be installed is a bit like asking your friend with a tiny bladder to hold it, indefinitely. (Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi also began the press conference by stating that "in New York City, we are number one. We actually have the highest number of public toilets per capita in the nation," which does not appear to be true—Milwaukee has us beat by a mile.) Compare these initiatives to a bill introduced in the City Council last year that would alter the City Charter to force the City to create or open up 3,100 public restrooms over a 12-year period. 

Hell Gate asked the mayor if he supported the bill, or, since he had just recently convened a charter review commission to come up with ideas to amend the charter, whether they should take it up.

"I'm not familiar with the bill, we'll look at it," Adams replied. "Our charter commission, they're looking for ideas, they're going to be holding hearings. It's important for the ideas to come in front of them." Brooklyn Councilmember Sandy Nurse, who introduced the sweeping bathroom legislation, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said that the City had earmarked $150 million for the construction and renovation of new restrooms around town, and that these new toilets would not be affected by cuts to the Parks Department budget.

In addition to the increase in public restrooms, the City also announced on Monday that Google Maps has added a new layer to their map of New York City that shows users where the public toilets are. Teddy Siegel, the New York City public bathroom influencer, was also on hand for the announcement. Siegel told Hell Gate that if she were in charge, she'd institute something like the Community Toilet Scheme in the United Kingdom, in which the state pays private businesses to keep their loos open for anyone, not just paying customers. 

Had Siegel pitched this idea to the assembled elected officials whose ears she now had? 

"No. I wrote it down in my New York Times op-ed, though. But that's a good idea," Siegel said.

If it's not NIMBYism destroying any hope for more public restrooms delivered at a less glacial pace, it's also bureaucracy. For the DOT to install any restrooms, it must pass five layers of scrutiny: the local community board, the relevant councilmember, the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the City's Public Design Commission.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine called this status quo "unacceptable," and noted that the average cost to build a new restroom is $5 million, and to renovate one costs $3 million. Levine also agreed that Lower Manhattan needed way more public bathrooms, including around City Hall Park, where a group of unsanctioned port-a-potty operators plied their trade to nearly universal acclaim last year until the City shut them down.

"Probably acre by acre, it's one of the most heavily used parks in the city. And there's so much foot traffic coming off the Brooklyn Bridge, where you have all the food vendors and you have all the dancers," Levine said. "It's a great candidate for one of those 14 DOT [bathrooms]."

In the meantime, New Yorkers and visitors should take the mayor up on his offer to use the facilities in City Hall, once you get past the NYPD security gate. If you do, drop us a line and let us know how it goes: tips@hellgatenyc.com.

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