City Council seeks to tackle public bathroom equity with new restrooms for every zip code

When you gotta go, you gotta go. But in New York City, the question is often: Where? The five boroughs have among the fewest public bathrooms per capita of any big city in the United States.

Now some City Council members have introduced legislation that would require the Adams administration to identify at least one new restroom location per zip code within the next year.

“Restroom equity doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, but it’s a critical human rights issue,” Brooklyn Councilmember Rita Joseph, who co-sponsored the bill, wrote in a tweet.

The bill calls on the Department of Transportation and the Department of Parks and Recreation to consider input from the public and community boards in identifying the new potties.

The pandemic underscored the bathroom emergency. With so many restaurants and businesses closed, New Yorkers relied even more on public lavatories, which are difficult to find and often in deep disrepair.

According to a 2019 report from former New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, there are only 16 “comfort stations” in parks per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, restrooms located in subway stations that shuttered during the pandemic remain closed.

Crain’s New York Business reporter Aaron Elstein has written extensively on the topic. In an interview with Gothamist in March, he traced the problem back to the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when the city closed bathrooms to save money. “When the city hit the rocks financially, the city’s bathrooms really went into the toilet, and no one’s been able to fix the problem ever since,” Elstein told Gothamist.

Elstein said one challenge is the multiple levels of bureaucracy involved in approving a new bathroom. Some business and neighborhood groups have also been resistant, citing concerns about the restrooms attracting unhoused people or drug users.

If the bill passes, agencies would have to recommend the new sites by June 2023.