public restrooms are a transportation issue

Car drivers can zip between places with restrooms. Bicyclists, to a lesser degree. Transit users and walkers, not at all. This is a transportation issue. If people cannot find restrooms, they can’t make their way through the city. They can’t afford to wait at a transit stop for a transfer. People with urinary issues (count me among them) have to plan carefully around not just their movement, but around restroom access. A city without public restrooms is a city that biases transportation against walkers and transit users, and in favor of vehicle drivers. Access is denied to an entire class of citizens.

In Sacramento, public restrooms are scarce. Cesar Chavez Plaza downtown has a Portland Loo type restroom, but it took years to get it done. So far as I know, there are no plans for additional locations.

Cesar Chavez Plaza restroom Portland Loo model

Roosevelt Park downtown has a new restroom, replacing the old one. There are two single-use, all-gender units, which is the current trend and probably much better than the older multi-user, gendered restrooms.

Roosevelt Park new restroom

The restroom in Fremont Park, right across the street as I type, has been closed for years, and despite the sign, is never open during events. Porta-potties are used for events at this park.

Fremont Park restroom closed

I have not traveled to all the city parks to see which restrooms are open, which are open but with limited hours, and which are closed, but my impression is that about half the park restrooms in the city are closed. The city has a GIS map of park restrooms, but no indication of whether the restrooms are actually open or not: Park restrooms are valuable for walkers, but very few are located on transit routes.

There are no public restrooms at transit hubs. No restrooms where people are waiting for the next train or next bus. The next bus, at transfer points for low frequency routes, can be quite a long wait, up to 45 minutes assuming the buses are on schedule. Even at Sacramento Valley Station, where a number of modes converge, you can only use the restroom by showing an Amtrak train ticket. Using light rail or bus, or just walking or bicycling, you are out of luck. (Note: Many people assume that Amtrak or Capitol Corridor owns the train station, but it is owned and managed by the city.)

Some light rail stations and a few bus stops have restrooms for the transit operators, but not for the public.

The city should:

  • re-open or replace all park restrooms, within two years
  • install public restrooms at every city park which does not currently have them; this would include Muir Children’s Park, Grant Park, Winn Park, and several others
  • install a public restroom at the bus layover point on L St & 14th St
  • install a public restroom at the 16th St light rail station (where the Gold Line and Blue Line diverge, and the most used transfer point)
  • install a public restroom at 7th St & Capitol Ave light rail station (where the Blue Line, Gold Line and Green Line diverge; the 8th St & Capitol Ave stop is a block away)
  • identify locations throughout the city where walkers and transit users congregate, and install public restrooms there

You might wonder why I’m asking the city to install transit restrooms rather than SacRT. The reason is that I see it as the responsibility of the city to provide restrooms everywhere they are needed, not of the transit agency, though of course the projects could be joint projects.

10-minute walk to parks

There is a national movement, 10 Minute Walk, with a goal of every person in cities of all sizes is within a 10-minute walk to a park, by 2050.

In the Sacramento region, the City of Sacramento (Darrell Steinberg), the City of Elk Grove (Steve Ly), and the City of Citrus Heights (Jeannie Bruins) have signed on. None of the other cities have. Looking at the listing for the western United States, all are cities except for Los Angeles County. I am not sure if park districts can sign on, but that might make some sense for Sacramento County which has a large number of separate park districts as well at Sacramento Regional Parks.

Why is this important right now? Many neighborhoods do not have sidewalks, so people out for physical and mental health must walk in the street. Sometimes that is OK, on very low traffic and low speed streets, but as you may have noticed, some drivers are using the empty roads as an opportunity to speed and driver recklessly, unconstrained by congestion. Even on streets that have sidewalks, they are often much too narrow (4 feet, 5 feet, occasionally 6 feet, rarely more; I am talking about neighborhoods were most people live; central business districts often have wide sidewalks but few residents) to share with the 6-foot physical distancing requirement. Parks are a great alternative. I am not talking about gathering in parks, which has been prohibited or strongly discouraged in most places, but just a safe and pleasant place to walk. Though many of us will be working to prevent a return to previous traffic levels and speeds, the mostly empty streets we are seeing now have a limited shelf life, and the need for parks will be even greater.

Though I’ve been aware of this goal for a while, I have not looked into it or gotten involved yet. As I have the chance, I will post more, perhaps a map of the city or county showing ten minute walk buffers around parks, and information about whether this goal is in the existing and updated general plans for the counties and cities in the region.

In the meanwhile, you might want to look at the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) web page on 10 Minute Walk for some background information.

Enjoy your walks!

10 Minute Walk logo