Toilet deserts of New West

The SkyTrain Station at 22nd St in New West is unusual in its isolation from commercial buildings. With no adjacent cafes, restaurants, or stores of any kind, 22nd St is a weird little bubble of activity within a sleepy neighbourhood of single family homes.  If nature should “call” while you are at 22nd St StationRead More

The SkyTrain Station at 22nd St in New West is unusual in its isolation from commercial buildings. With no adjacent cafes, restaurants, or stores of any kind, 22nd St is a weird little bubble of activity within a sleepy neighbourhood of single family homes. 

If nature should “call” while you are at 22nd St Station waiting for a train or bus, you are out of luck. The only toilet can only be accessed with the aid of a (typically absent) TransLink station attendant. The nearest business you could ask is a doctor’s office, several blocks up the hill – but even if they might let you use their facility, they are closed evenings and weekends. 

As a fascinating NY Mag article about bathroom culture in North America pointed out, everybody poops, but nobody likes to admit it. One of the side effects is the emergence of public spaces that fail to meet the most basic biological needs of the people who go there. Without an easily accessible public toilet at 22nd St SkyTrain Station, men have taken to using the side of the building as a urinal. Women hold it in better (or perhaps are just sneakier), and parents caught in this toilet desert with a newly toilet trained preschooler are completely out of luck. In other areas, toilet deserts could be created when a bloc of businesses all restrict toilet access to paying customers only, or when the public toilets are closed seasonally or for lengthy periods.

So the big question is, does the City of New Westminster have a duty to ensure reasonable access to public toilets within commercial zones? And if so, how should this be done? Should funding be allocated for creating and maintaining universally accessible public toilets? Should businesses be encouraged (or even required) to allow reasonable access to bathroom facilities upon request? 

Several City committees have been asked by Council to discuss the issue of public access to toilets in New West, including the Access Advisory Committee, the Seniors Advisory Committee and the Committee I sit on, Community and Social Issues. The request reflects concern for seniors with dementia or health problems that require fast access to a toilet, but the issue also affects young children, people who are homeless, and anyone who has ever really had to go RIGHT NOW. 

What do you think? Are toilet deserts an issue in the city? Are there specific places where you see more public urination because of a lack of public access to toilets? What do you think should be done to fix these problems?

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

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Comments

  1. I'm glad someone brought this up. It is amazing to me how rare a public loo is around these parts, and I'm not just talking about New Westminster. It's this whole region, and certainly all along the skytrain line into Vancouver. But, 22nd street is a good case study. Full disclosure: I hate that station because it IS so remote, seeing steady traffic through out the region but completely unequipped to see to any customer comfort while waiting there. I won't even talk about my one-time commute to Delta, trying to hold it the whole way from Vancouver.

    I can think of two occasions at least when waiting at that station when things (I choose that word diplomatically) were about to get real. One was for my daughter, who was four at the time. The other time, it was me. On both occasions, asking the Translink bus driver if I/my daughter could use the (relatively recent) bathroom was like asking him (a guy on both occasions) if he could give me fifty bucks. "But, those are for staff only" was the obtuse reply both times in two different forms. Luckily for me, I managed to gain sympathy with another operator both times.

    This is an issue and not just one of amenities. But of customer comfort and human dignity, too. As for how it should be paid for, I really don't know. It's amazing that it should come down to figuring it out at this late date. To me a transit system looks like a rinky dink operation indeed if it can't provide a basic amenity like a bathroom for its customers at a major hub like 22nd street. I've heard the arguments about maintenance costs and abuse of the facilities. That's the cost of doing business in my opinion. It's like complaining about how expensive lifeboat maintenance is on the Titanic.

    Thanks for the post!
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