By Molly De Marco (@mollsdemarco) and Allison De Marco (@allisoncdemarco)

Who doesn’t need a public restroom from time to time?

Ever been waiting for the bus? Taking a walk? Attending a rally in Peace and Justice Plaza?

This is an issue of human dignity. We need more public restrooms: places where you don’t have to feel compelled to buy something just to use the restroom, and a restroom that isn’t only available during business hours. 

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are public restroom deserts. Chapel Hill’s Wallace Deck bathrooms are hard to find and often in disrepair or closed. Despite planning and requests for an external facing 24/7 restroom in the to-be-built Carrboro civic building, it did not make it into the final plan. While there are public restrooms at many of our parks, they are not centrally located. The two externally facing restrooms in the Courtyard on Franklin Street would be a great example (not connected to a business, well-lit and supplied), IF they were actually regularly unlocked and signed well.  There are some portable toilets sprinkled around due to construction and for our bus operators in park and ride locations (those are locked and for use of transit staff only because they were not well taken care of well by the public or maintained by the Town). Our parks have restrooms but they are mostly not located close to the downtowns. IFC Commons has public restrooms for members. Members may continue to access them, one person at a time per restroom, and will be asked to wear a face mask and exit the building once they are finished. The only public, round-the-clock, centrally-located restroom in Chapel Hill and Carrboro  is in Carrboro Town Commons, which has two single-use restrooms open 24/7.

In 2019, the Town of Chapel Hill brought together representatives from key local organizations (ex. Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, Downtown Partnership, Chamber, Chapel Hill PD) to study and make recommendations on how to move forward to create accessible restroom facilities for our community. A 150-page report was created with considerations that included location, affordability, accessibility, hygiene products, maintenance, and information about community services. This report did not extend into Carrboro. You can view the report here.

European cities have abundant public restroom facilities. We stayed in a small Scottish village whose public restroom on the town square had won awards. One idea from Chapel Hill’s report is for a series of Portland Loos, like this:

Image from The Portland Loo.

Here’s a photo a NEXT-er took in Asheville of one of their public park restrooms:

Photo by Patrick McDonough.

This is what our community needs:

  • More public restrooms close to our downtowns
  • Self-cleaning or frequent cleaning and maintenance 
  • Non-gendered units
  • Restrooms that are in well-populated areas (where people walk by often to keep eyes on the facilities, and so they are easy to find)
  • Good signage
  • Public restrooms in the new public park that will be alongside the East Rosemary Street development
  • Free period product dispensers in all restrooms  
  • ADA compliant facilities
  • A plan like Scotland’s Comfort Scheme, in which the government funds private owners to provide their facilities to the public, for free

Pass the toilet paper…and tell your elected officials you want more public restrooms!

Where in our towns have you found a restroom to use? Where would you site a public restroom like a Portland Loo, pictured above? Please share in the comments.


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