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.
With 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.