Ever been ‘caught out’ and no toilet available?

By the GottaGo Core Team

Whether at the park with the kids, out for a bike ride or waiting for a bus, that moment has happened to most of us. If you have special health needs, it can happen far too often.

When people “gotta go,” if there are no toilets, even the most fastidious will have to take advantage of alleys, stairwells and bushes as emergency bathrooms. It is not a choice anyone wants to make.

The GottaGo! Campaign advocates for a network of easy-to-find, safe, accessible public toilets for persons of all abilities. This includes public toilets in parks, major transit stops and key public places to meet the needs of the million Ottawa residents and the 10 million tourists annually. Accessible toilets are an important public health issue and a key to sustainable cities.

GottaGo! came together in November 2013. Over the past seven years, our entirely volunteer effort has urged city councillors to include toilets in the city budget, successfully lobbied for toilets in the two node stations of the new LRT and port-a-potties in some splash pads and sports fields (for summer months), met with numerous community groups, participated in local events and conducted media events.

Although Ottawa does have public restrooms in larger parks, their hours do not fill the need. Small parks, rinks and splash pads often have no washroom facilities at all. In the downtown, where bars and restaurants are located, residents complain about people urinating after-hours in laneways and buildings, and some restaurant and bar owners fret about non-paying customers using their washrooms (though, to be fair, some have become more relaxed). The current situation is unacceptable in a large city, especially when it’s our capital.

Indeed, the city’s ottpee.ca listing of 174 public toilets includes 62 that are only open during the late spring to early fall, and lord help those who have to empty their bladders on the Sabbath during the off-peak season. Of the remaining 112 toilets, 48 are closed Sundays, while many others are open only certain hours.

Internationally, Ottawa is way behind the times. Japan and Korea lead the world in public toilet provision, while numerous cities in Europe have good, easy-to-find public toilets. Canadian municipalities such as Vancouver, Nanaimo and Edmonton have taken initiatives to match these examples. While Montreal is building a dozen public toilets along high-traffic sidewalks, Ottawa has no such plans for pedestrians.

Our current efforts focus on signage. There are some public toilets in the city, but they are hard to find, as there are zero street-level signs indicating their locations. Maps produced by Ottawa Tourism indicate there are at least 17 downtown public toilets in buildings such as the National Gallery of Canada, the National Arts Centre, Bytown Market and City Hall, yet not one of these locations are marked with street-level signs. How can our 10 million visitors easily find a public toilet?

Putting up a dozen or so street-level signs would be a cost-effective way to let the public know where the toilets are located (estimate $3,000). The City and Tourism Ottawa say they are working on this, but so far there have been no results.

What to do?

We propose that the City of Ottawa and National Capital Commission:

  • install public toilets and water fountains at all major LRT and bus stations;
  • invest in signage, maintenance and improvements for existing public toilets to bring them to a higher standard;
  • provide incentives to private businesses in key locations in exchange for providing accessible toilets and signage;
  • add at least one 24/7 accessible facility to public buildings in high-traffic areas;
  • invest in some adult changing stations for adults with severe disabilities; and
  • require new developments in key areas to provide unisex, accessible washrooms.

What you can do

  • Contact your city councillor (and the mayor) by phone, email or letter and advocate for a network of public toilets
  • Advocate for port-a-potties in sports fields and splash pads (seasonally)
  • Like us on Facebook: GottaGo Campaign Ottawa
  • Tell others about our campaign
  • Join our team (we have short-term and longer-term tasks)
  • Join the GoHere decal campaign (co-sponsored by GottaGo, The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and the MS Society). crohnsandcolitis.ca/Support-for-You/GoHere-Washroom-Access
  • Ask us to share our ideas with your company or organization

Contact us at gottagocampaign@gmail.com; website: www.ottawapublictoilets.ca.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

The GottaGo core team is Bessa Whitmore, Alan Etherington, Kristina Ropke, Eric McCabe, Nick Aplin and Zeinab Mohammed.

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