You know, I was just thinking that it had been way too long since we had a story about the availability of public toilets in downtown Houston. Thankfully, our wait is over.
Unlike some other U.S. cities, Houston does not have public pay toilets, even in high-pedestrian areas such as the Texas Medical Center and downtown. Free public restrooms are available in parks, government buildings, grocery stores and most fast-food restaurants.
But unless you are a paying customer, or at least a shopping customer, chances are your eager bladder will not be welcome at many establishments. At least not in downtown. Outside the city center, it can be a different story if you look hard enough, or just ask.
Main Street Market Square Redevelopment Authority officials floated the idea in 2004, shortly after Main Street was redeveloped with the light rail as the centerpiece. Plumbing for five toilets was installed along Main, but the restrooms themselves were never put in place.
"I would love to see them downtown as we invite people to come downtown and to be a part of the things that are going on," said Vicki Rivers, the authority's executive director.
Rivers said even if the the authority, the business arm of a tax increment reinvestment zone, could pay for the toilets, it would be expensive to maintain them. She said she would need financial help from public entities as well as the private sector.
Some cities, in the United States and abroad, use high-tech, coin-operated restrooms that feature self-flushing, self-cleaning toilets. Users are given a certain period of time before a buzzer sounds and the door opens automatically.
The city of San Francisco -- despite having problems with one that attracts illegal activities such as drug use and prostitution -- has enjoyed some success with its 25 high-tech toilets, the first of which was installed in 1994. The facilities cost 25 cents to use, but free tokens are provided for those who cannot afford a quarter.
Seattle got into the public toilet business in 2004, but put its five high-tech units up for sale on eBay earlier this month, for $89,000 apiece. The auctions, which were slated to end Saturday, had attracted no bidders as of Friday.
Andy Ryan, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities, said it has cost the city $1 million a year for each unit on the lease-purchase agreement and the maintenance.
I feel compelled, as I have done before, to point out that there are in fact free public restrooms in downtown Houston. It's just that they're in the tunnel system, not on the street. Here's a nice, easy map (PDF) of the system; once you're in, you can use the maps there to figure out where the nearest potty is. Discovery Green has public restrooms, too, if you're in that area. Believe me, as the father of two preschoolers, I need to know stuff like this.,Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 30, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston