By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, May 25 (EFE).- Tourists in New York let their mouths hang open when looking at the skyscrapers and when they spot the site of a scene in one of their favorite films, but behind the oh-ing and ah-ing a key and very mundane question lurks: Where can one find a public restroom?
The scarcity of public restrooms is a problem that also affects native New Yorkers and it’s getting worse all over the metro area, where people stand in line waiting their turn at the few existing bathrooms such as the one in Bryant Park.
So, the president of the borough of Manhattan, Mark Levine, and city councilor Rita Joseph have presented a bill to help solve the notorious lack of public restrooms in the city, proposing to locate at least one such facility in every Zip Code district.
The public bathrooms will help people attend to their basic needs with dignity, at the same time that they would guarantee that public spaces remain clean and healthy, said Joseph, referring to the habit of some pedestrians of urinating on sidewalks, in corners, nooks and crannies here and there, especially where construction work is under way or in low-traffic zones.
According to the two politicians, among the 100 largest US cities, New York is in seventh-to-last place in terms of public restrooms per resident.
But in addition, they say that the lack of available accessible and clean public bathrooms in the city disproportionately harms homeless New Yorkers, the elderly, the handicapped, pregnant women, women having their periods and people with medical conditions.
The New York Transportation Authority told EFE only that it is processing requests to establish more public bathrooms, although it acknowledged that it would like the process to move faster even as it understands the challenges of getting them in place.
The Web page of the official guide to New York says that the City Hall more than a decade ago built more than 20 automatic public restrooms but most of them are in one location in Queens.
According to the Web site, besides the centrally located bathrooms in Bryant Park, which are considered to be the jewel in the crown of New York restrooms due to their cleanliness and upkeep, even featuring flowers at the entrance and piped-in music, there are merely a handful of other places where one can take a bathroom break in Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.
Given this dilemma, the best spots to find a public restroom are the city’s parks, where one can usually pretty easily find appropriate facilities, and also at the train, metro and bus stations as well as inside the stores of big fast food chains or coffee shops.
However, more and more restaurants and bars are putting up signs saying that only paying customers may use their bathrooms.
To help local residents and tourists in need, several mobile apps have been created that – with greater or lesser success – try to provide locations of public restrooms, including “nyrestroom” (http://m3.mappler.net/nyrestroom/), an initiative launched by Prof. Wansoo Im.
Im, an urban planning specialist, told EFE that he launched his app in 2005 when he came to the Big Apple from nearby New Jersey to visit two of his daughters who were studying at the university there.
He said he and his daughters were out seeing the sights and they wanted to use the restroom but could not find any public facilities anywhere and when they did locate one there was a huge line, so they ended up taking the metro to Penn Station because they knew that there would be restrooms there.
At that time, Im got the idea of creating a map showing the city’s public restrooms, and he included not only the few public facilities but also the restaurant chains, museums, hotels and big bookstores where anyone could freely use the restroom.
Originally from South Korea, Im said that 17 years later he’s keeping his app up and running because the bathroom problem is not only still there but it’s gotten worse during the pandemic, with the closure for safety reasons of many places that had been open before the Covid-19 emergency.
He said he looks favorably on the proposal to increase the number of public restrooms in the city, but he remarked that a better and cheaper solution would be to promote cooperation among private businesses and the public so that the former would agree to let people use their bathrooms.