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: https://data.cityofsacramento.org/datasets/b9e7fa6d1d104833b3f04268d7f682dc_0/explore. 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.

Katie’s Mid-Year Budget Request Sign-On

Katie Valenzuela, Sacramento councilmember for District 4, posted a request for people to sign on to ideas for a mid-year budget adjustment to include several transportation and livability issues, at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc2klsRgKrTcY4Ndoh7OWpz9CdwS_-Vb5rZvrrqG9Td75Z1Ig/viewform.


“In the year I’ve been in office, I’ve heard from thousands of people regarding their concerns and ideas about needed improvements in their neighborhoods. When I bring these community concerns to staff, I hear a lot of support and empathy for the issues raised, but it is often followed by a somber realization: there isn’t a sufficient budget to provide these services.

While I understand the limitations of the City budget, I also believe there are basic services any City should provide:

  • Streetlights, particularly in older neighborhoods that lack sufficient lighting to promote safety for all road users.
  • Sidewalk repair, the costs for which we put onto property owners during the 2008 recession. Sidewalks are a public good everyone uses and should be maintained by the City.
  • Public Restrooms to serve everyone in our city, particularly at parks. This should also include porta potties near large encampments.
  • Road and traffic safety improvements, particularly targeting streets and intersections where there are repeated collisions or injuries.
  • Public garbage cans and collection to help mitigate litter.

These needs aren’t unique to District 4, but are issues I’ve also observed citywide. As we approach the midyear and future budgets, I urge you to join me in asking that we consider the quality-of-life improvements the community is asking for and appropriate funds for these purposes.”


These five items are all transportation issues to some degree or another.

Streetlights: Many people will not walk at night when there is insufficient lighting. They feel unsafe. Many intersections are poorly lit for people walking, providing light for drivers but not for people in crosswalks.

Sidewalk repair: The lower the income level of a neighborhood, which is strongly but not complete correlated with people of color, the poorer the sidewalks. This is an ongoing problem in north Sacramento and south Sacramento, but exists other places. When the city claims it has not responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, but does maintain roadways, it is sending a clear message that drivers are more important than walkers. This must change. The first step is not to start fixing sidewalks, but to change city code so that the city is responsible for maintaining sidewalks, not adjacent property owners. There may be situations in which a tree on private property damages a public sidewalk, but most of the damage from trees occurs by city owned trees in the sidewalk buffer area. In fact, the worst sidewalks are often adjacent to city-owned property, where the ordinance requiring property owner repair apparently doesn’t apply. (In the interests of transparency, if one wishes to see truly horrible sidewalks, visit the City of Los Angeles. Makes Sacramento look like a walking paradise.)

broken sidewalk on V Street, Sacramento

Public restrooms: Any person who is walking is likely to be making a slower trip than a driver, and more likely to need to use a restroom during their trip. Walkers are also more likely to chain destinations, and therefore need a restroom during a longer trip, while drivers often make shorter individual trips to single destinations. The city has resisted making public restrooms available, partially in an effort to make unhoused people unwelcome. One new restroom was built in Cesar Chavez Plaza, and some parks have restrooms available for some hours, but many park restrooms remain locked. For example, the one in Fremont Park has been locked up for two years now.

Traffic safety improvements: This one is obvious. What is not obvious is that the city has an unwritten policy that it will only make major street changes with federal, state, and regional grants, not out of the general budget. A few things are done as part of routine maintenance, when a street is repaved and re-striped, but this is a tiny fraction of what is needed. Improvements to high-injury intersections and corridors should be a funded part of the city budget, not dependent upon grants from outside.

Public garbage cans: Again, people walking are likely to generate things that need to be trashed or recycled. For example, walk to your local coffee shop and then continue on your journey, you end up with an empty cup to dispose of. People driving simply throw it on the floor, or out the window in many cases. And if they throw it on the floor, it is likely to be thrown on the ground the next time the vehicle is parked. I know this because this is the pattern for people who commute in from the suburbs and park in the central city. I’ve observed it hundreds of times. It is true that in areas with active business improvement districts, there are more public garbage cans, but that leaves many areas of the city out, which are just as deserving of the service.

The city discriminates against people walking (and bicycling). These budget items would be a first step towards redressing that.

I will say that the greatest need for these improvements is not in District 4, which has often received more attention from the city than any district other than District 1. Sacramento has had and continues to have a serious equity failing, spending more money on repair and improvements in higher income areas.