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Looking For Lav

Photo by JesseK-G from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
If you’re doing the duck walk with a bladder at code red, it will be best to look for a most public place to do your private business. That’s where Toronto is being told to install most of its ballyhooed new public poopers in order to flush-out drug users, sex workers, homeless people, and a poopourri of Mile-Low Club applicants.

The recommendation comes from the City of Seattle, which disastrously installed five of the public privies at a cost of $1 million each, only to pay a $540,000 penalty to cancel the maintenance contract early and remove the thunderboxes beginning next week (unlike Toronto’s deal with Astral Media Outdoor, Seattle has strict advertising laws which prohibit the city from entering an agreement wherein the ad company buys and maintains the toilets in exchange for advertising rights). The Seattle pilot project failed not only because of the direct expense, but also because of the tendency of the devices to attract those who weren’t using the bogs for the intended purpose.
Luckily for Astral, the intended purpose for Toronto’s toilets is advertising, and any riff-raff intending to experience the scenery at Pee Pee Point should be put off by the $1 admission fee (Seattle’s toilets were free). And if the Seattle shitstorm is anything to go by, Toronto is best advised to avoid installing the commodes in crappy areas, where a lack of pedestrian traffic and public vigilance is thought to encourage illegal activity within the units.
astraltoilet.jpgWith this considered, it’s odd, then, that the City is planning such an extensive time limit—patrons have up to fifteen minutes to shake the dew off their lilies before the loo calls security (if you’re curling rope in there for fifteen minutes, perhaps it should call a doctor?). With only twenty being installed, however, it makes sense that most of Toronto’s Astral johns will be in high-yield advertising eyeball territory anyway (Seattle tried to recoup some of the costs by selling the toilets on eBay).
Seattle’s debacle aside, most similar public toilet projects throughout Europe and the U.S. have been successful and time-tested. Some other cities shut them down overnight and Vancouver has installed purple lights in some of their toilets so junkies can’t see their veins to shoot up. A cheaper, manually cleaned prototype is about to be installed in Portland, Oregon, which features gaps under the door meant to discourage unlawful activity—though as Portland city commissioner Randy Leonard suggested to the New York Times, the lessened privacy could be a turn-off to potential porcelain punishers. But if Toronto’s new craptraps are anything like New York’s, the time it takes the automated door to close could still be “the longest and most awkward 20 to 30 seconds of a person’s day” as they stand in full view of the public, ceremoniously and conspicuously disappearing to perform the unmentionable.
How well Astral’s complex, self-cleaning facilities will be operated and maintained during the 20-year contract remains to be seen, and it’s going to take about a decade for Astral to roll out all twenty units. Nevertheless, beginning next summer, Torontonians won’t have to buy a doughnut or brave a toxic TTC bathroom in order to flush their buffer. Astral promises that each sterilized booty bunker will feature a 24-hour, toll-free number to report any turd terrorism or technical malfunctions, and that graffiti will be scrubbed clean from the ads (and surrounding structure) within a day. Crappy trails, Toronto!
Lower photo courtesy of the City of Toronto.


  • mister j

    I’ve been following this ‘concern’ about whores and junkies using these toilets. I don’t really get the problem. You have to pay a dollar, get your 15 mins, and then the whole thing is totally sanitized. I don’t care if they guy in there before me was shooting up. Why not include a needle disposal thing in there? And I really don’t care if someone in there is getting in on. It’d be hilarious to be walking by and see the ‘van a rockin’!’
    Any word if you can smoke in them? I’d love take the ’15 minute challenge’: roll and smoke a doobie in 15 or less!

  • tobymilrose

    The other night I was riding my bike home along Shuter St. at around 1AM. I could see a prostitute standing on the corner up ahead (not an uncommon sight). A cop car traveling towards me passed her, and she watched it go by. Just as I began to pass her, she proceeded to pull her pants down and take a nasty pee/fart directly on the home at the corner. I just about puked.

  • accozzaglia

    The public toilets installed 2004 in Seattle were an epic fail, and as of a few weeks ago, the city of Seattle have been placing their potties on the eBay auction block. But then again, the NY Times link above pretty much says it all.
    Having lived there in 2004 when the Seattle public toilets were being installed, one thing indisputable is that these commodes weren’t in low-surveilled (the Jane Jacobs definition), out-of-the-way places — not in the least, so Astral using them as advertising vehicles here will likely backfire when “questionable” activity accelerates in places like Yonge-Dundas or wherever they decide where to drop their (advertising) load.
    For example, the toilet the city of Seattle installed on Broadway Avenue in Capitol Hill was comparable to having an Astral-toilet (Astralet? Astoilet?) installed on Queen West, right across the street from the Trinity Bellwoods Park gates, while the Pike Place Market toilet location was like having one at Lower Jarvis and the Esplanade next to St. Lawrence Market.
    Plenty of pedestrians went by these high-traffic places, assuring high surveillance and plenty of “eyes upon the street”, and yet the toilets were still a problem out there. I was terrified of them, even from the first week they were opened to the piblic and still had that, uhm, new-crapper smell and lustre. Moreover, a loonie is easy enough to come by from panhandling or hooking, so placing these Astralets in high-traffic places doesn’t mean jack, really.