Seattle and Portland, Oregon, have some heavy rivalries. Soccer, progressivism, the quantity of hop-essence per drop of liquid libations — the Emerald City and its Type B relative to the south find the distinction without difference in so many of our most treasured spaces.
But there is an area in which Portland succeeded where Seattle failed: public restrooms.
Portland has its own toilet — the Portland Loo — that provides 24-hour access to hygiene facilities while avoiding problems that have plagued urban public restrooms in the past, such as drug use and vandalism. Now Seattle, after years of planning, is poised to get them as well.
The City Council has set aside money for the purchase, installation and maintenance of two Portland Loos. One will be in the University District and the second in Ballard.
Both were expected to be installed in 2017.
The Loos will provide round-the-clock access to toilet facilities in the two bustling neighborhoods, serving residents, tourists and students alike. The facilities will also provide access to homeless and low-income people who struggle to find places to relieve themselves in safety and dignity.
Portland Loos are designed like tanks to withstand constant use. They are spare, with easy-to-clean panels that can be replaced to deal with vandalism and graffiti. The louvered panels provide privacy, but also ensure enough of a window in for law enforcement to observe potential public safety hazards or drug use.
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The toilets also connect directly to the sewer system, which means they do not need to be picked up and replaced, unlike traditional portable toilets.
And, relative to other public facilities, the Loos are cheap. The total budget per toilet is $267,475, a figure that includes the purchase, utility connections, design and permitting for the toilet.
Maintenance costs are expected to run between $25,000 and $30,000 per year. The City Council set aside $18,000 per year for each of the two Loos.
Although the city has had resources for the toilets for almost a year, choosing the right location and getting community buy-in is as important as it is difficult. The Loos need to be in high-traffic areas for easy access and the added protection of being in the public eye, but without disrupting rights of way and pedestrian access.
This is Seattle’s second major attempt to install public toilets.
In 2004, the city set aside $5 million for five automated, self-cleaning toilets.
The fancy machines, imported from Germany, were not up to the task.
Their automated bits jammed with trash, and they became hidey holes for drug use and prostitution, The Seattle Times reported in 2008, shortly before Seattle Public Utilities decided to pull the plug.
Eventually, they were sold on eBay for $12,549 for all five units.
The experience stung, but the city has seen how well the Loos are working in Portland, Gary Johnson, with the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, told KING 5 in July.
“They’re working really well,” Johnson said. “I’ll confess to having gone down and sort of staked out, and I’m really impressed.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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