Does DC have enough bathrooms when you really need one? A new bill could help

Finding a bathroom when you’re out and about in D.C. can be tricky. Many businesses have their restrooms exclusive for customers, and sneaking into a nearby office or restaurant just isn’t as easy as it used to be.

If you have little kids, you don’t go anywhere without knowing where you might be able to suddenly stop and rush a child to a toilet. A new bill from D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto hopes to make that a little bit easier, by requiring all new and renovated parks in the District larger than one acre to include a public restroom.

It piggybacks off a law from two years ago that mandates retail establishments around the city to open up their restrooms to those with certain medical conditions.

“Having access to public restrooms in high density areas … will be helpful,” said Pinto. “We all have to use the restroom. This will especially be helpful to our residents experiencing homelessness or who are pregnant, people with gastrointestinal diseases or other medical conditions, or families out and about enjoying our city.”

Pinto acknowledged it’ll also help with public safety and cleanliness, by giving residents who need a more dignified way of relieving themselves.

“We have a problem right now with limited access to restrooms, and as a result, we see people urinating and defecating on the street,” said Pinto. “We’re hopeful that this bill will move forward and we’ll be able to provide people a dignified space to use the restroom.”

Pinto said her proposal would dramatically increase the number of bathrooms in some of the busiest areas through all eight wards of the city, at their busiest hours. Currently, she’s envisioning the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., when more people are out and about.

It also includes money for local Business Improvement Districts, Main Streets, or the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to pay for cleaning and maintenance of those facilities.

This isn’t the first time Pinto has taken up the issue of bathroom accessibility in the nation’s capital. In the past, she’s helped open up bathrooms in private businesses to those with certain medical issues. She’s also pushed to make menstrual products more accessible in schools and other city buildings.

“I think this is the latest effort to really recognize the reality that we are all human beings. We all have to go to the rest room,” said Pinto. “We should be living in a city that provides access to these spaces for free that are publicly available.”

She considers it one of those quality of life issues that can easily be overlooked — until you suddenly find yourself scrambling.

“I do think about these issues and how to make sure that we can build the most accessible and inclusive city as possible for our D.C. residents, and for visitors and tourists who are coming here to enjoy our city,” said Pinto.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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