City hopes public restrooms will resolve public urination issue

Committee looks at other cities to see what works
downtown madison

The renaissance of downtown Madison can be seen in the skyline and on the sidewalks. If you look up, you’ll see construction cranes working to create downtown living spaces, and at ground level, you will find sidewalks crowded with residents and visitors.

For the city, the problem is that while more people want to visit downtown, there aren’t enough places for people to…go.

“We just need public restrooms. I mean, other large communities have dealt with this issue,” said Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison.

To address the issue, the city has created a public toilet committee, which Schmitz is chairing.

The committee is meeting every other week with a goal of providing the city with recommendations to address the issue in March.

Residents and business owners in the downtown area have wrestled with the problem of the homeless and individuals leaving bars and restaurants late at night, urinating in alley ways and parking ramps.

“With the late night crowd the alleys don’t smell very good, and sometimes the parking ramps don’t smell very good,” Schmitz said.

The city does have a nice public restroom on State Street at the visitor center, but it is only open during hours when ambassadors are present. Their presence prevents the bathrooms from being used for drug use or sexual activity.

“That’s why we have no problems. They are nice restrooms. Somebody is always there, so you don’t have to worry about bad behavior which does happen,” Schmitz said.

The committee is looking at other cities to determine best practices for dealing with this issue. They have had discussions with officials in Minneapolis, Vancouver, Canada and Portland, Oregon. Portland may offer a solution in what they call the Portland Loo, a restroom that provides privacy, but limits the number of people who can use it.

“It is open on the bottom and open on the top and you go in for one thing only so there’s not room for bad behavior kind of stuff, and it only fits one person at a time,” Schmitz said.

The committee will look at other options as well, but with an eye on cost. Brick and mortar facilities can be expensive to build and maintain.

The goal of the committee is to provide the city with a recommendation for public toilets by March. They are also looking at recommendations for additional signage so visitors can more easily locate public restrooms.