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Seattle wants to give free-standing public toilets another go

City of Portland

Five years after Seattle had to get rid of its free-standing public toilet structures, Mayor Mike McGinn wants to give it another go, this time with a new design. 

Seattle had a costly four-year experiment with free-standing public toilets that ended in failure. It's not that they didn't work. 

The city sold these free-standing public restrooms after it became clear they'd become a breeding ground for troublesome and illegal activities.

"They worked great," said Seattle City Council President Sally Clark. "Unfortunately, they also worked as tiny little hiding places."

Clark was one of the people who pushed the city to get rid of the self-cleaning toilets that were a little too private. People could hide away in there and have sex or use drugs.

But now McGinn wants to buy a different kind of public toilet from the city of Portland to use near Pioneer Square. The Portland Loo has slats at the top and the bottom so police can see how many people are in it and hear what’s going on. Gary Johnson with the city's Department of Planning Development says the facilities are less inviting for criminal activity.

"Sufficient privacy is provided, but there's a high degree of transparency that makes it easy to see what's going on and to ensure that public safety issues aren't happening in the restrooms," he said. 

Clark says she’s open to the idea.

"Why not? Try, try again," she said. 

City officials say this won’t cost taxpayers money. A developer of a building nearby has agreed to buy, transport and install the toilet as a public benefit in exchange for getting to build a taller tower. The Alliance for Pioneer Square has agreed to pick up the cost of maintenance and twice a day cleaning.

Clark says she just wants to make sure the toilet really gets taken care of so that anyone who needs to would feel comfortable using it. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.