Visitors to the newly opened Vancouver Waterfront Park may have seen two public restrooms that look different from those in other parks around the city.
Just east of WildFin American Grill are two restrooms manufactured by The Portland Loo. The loos are designed to prevent crime, including vandalism and illegal drug use. The first loo was installed in Portland more than a decade ago, but the pair at the waterfront are the first for the city of Vancouver. The facilities are typically put in urban areas with sizeable tourist populations, said Evan Madden, sales manager at The Portland Loo.
“You want something that can handle the kind of abuse a brick-and-mortar restroom can’t,” he said.
The Portland Loo’s stainless steel walls have a graffiti-proof coating. Blue lights prevent drug users from locating veins, and open grates at the top and bottom of the stall make it so that people can tell if someone is inside while still giving the occupant privacy.
Terry Snyder, Vancouver’s park developer, said the city plans to add one or two more loos at The Waterfront Vancouver as it develops, but when those will be installed depends on demand. There is also a park planned for the North Image neighborhood in northeast Vancouver that could get this kind of restroom.
The pair at the waterfront have sharps-disposal containers, baby-changing stations and hand sanitizer. Each restroom, which is about the size of a parking space, costs more than $90,000. Adding in the cost of getting the unit connected to sewer lines, water and electrical and surrounded by concrete pad, it ended up costing more like $150,000 to $160,000 per restroom, Snyder said.
They’re a lot more expensive than traditional brick-and-mortar restrooms. However, besides preventing crime, The Portland Loo is supposed to be easy to maintain. The city of Vancouver contracted with contracted with Brightview Landscaping to clean and maintain the restrooms.
Madden said The Portland Loo was designed after Seattle spent $5 million on five self-cleaning public toilets that were later sold for $12,549 on eBay. “The commodes became filthy hide-outs for drug use and prostitution,” according to The Seattle Times. The Portland Loo is supposed to mitigate those issues.
At nearby Esther Short Park, people sometimes lock themselves in the bathroom at night, Snyder said. Since those restrooms offer complete privacy, there’s no way to know for sure if someone is in there. Snyder said the city has considered tearing down the pair of restrooms at Esther Short and replacing them with something else.
Option for homeless
The Portland Loos at the waterfront are an option for people living on the street, who have dealt with a lack of public restrooms downtown. Unlike the restrooms at Esther Short Park, The Portland Loo can be open 24/7.
At one point, the city put port-a-potties near Share House, the men’s homeless shelter downtown where people live outside in tents. There were problems with people stuffing the toilet vaults with clothing, needles and other foreign objects, which made them difficult to pump, so the port-a-potties were removed.
The ground-floor restrooms at Share House recently reopened after being remodeled this summer; they are open to nonresidents during meal times. While they were closed, there were sanitation issues in the blocks surrounding Share House.
“We were pleased to see that the loos were put in at the waterfront,” said Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless. “It’s accessible to all people.”
Sometimes going into a coffee shop to use the restroom isn’t an option, she said. (Starbucks announced earlier this year that anybody can use its restrooms even if they hadn’t made a purchase.) Budd hopes the city will consider putting The Portland Loo in other areas of downtown and uptown Vancouver.
Another facility that will be adding to the restroom options for unhoused people is the Vancouver Navigation Center at 2018 Grand Blvd. Set to open in November, the central Vancouver facility has restrooms, showers and laundry facilities that Budd said will be a big draw. Previously, there were no public restroom options for homeless people in that area.