On February 4, the ST Rider Experience Committee took up the longstanding issue of public restrooms on Link.

Sound Transit

Way back in 1998, a Board resolution mandated public restrooms at Union Station, Northgate TC, Everett, Tacoma Dome, Bellevue TC, and of course Sounder trains themselves. Since then, ST has added them at Seatac, Tukwila Link, Federal Way TC, and the Auburn and Sumner Sounder Stations.

By 2024, your bladder will have a universe of options, unless it’s on East Link (see the map).

The staff proposes three criteria for a public restroom: 10,000 boardings per day, five routes converging, or more than 20 minutes from the nearest restroom on Link. This would add Issaquah and Seattle Center to the map at right.

Each of these will cost about $322,000 annually to operate, mainly because of the security and customer service presence. Access can be controlled by Next generation ORCA or a QR code printed on a ticket. Public (and longtime STB) commenter Joe Kunzler had perhaps the most creative idea: to lease to small restaurants, which would be a revenue-positive way of providing both restrooms and other amenities at stations.

The committee moved to pass on the proposed policy change to the Sound Transit Board.

52 Replies to “ST to add public restrooms”

    1. I believe the south Sounder stations are manned in the morning to provide customer support, in particular when there is a train delay. Made sense when most people didn’t have smartphones.

  1. How do we get small retail places in or very near these stations? Eating on transit aside, surely at least small espresso kiosks or something similar should be allowed for each station?

      1. Given the years of process it took for development of Capitol Hill Station and the continuing process to shed excess real estate along MLK a decade later for affordable housing, I wouldn’t be shocked if leasing station space at Angle Lake is arduous.

  2. I really hope these restrooms will be open throughout the full span to Link service, not just 7-6 Monday-Friday. When you really need the restroom the most is when the buses you’re transferring to are infrequent and the adjacent businesses with restrooms, closed. The time I’m describing is 10 PM, not 5 PM.

    If you’re going to force people to wait 20 minutes for a bus, the least you can do is give them a place to pee, while they’re waiting.

    1. I agree. Consider a typical Friday or Saturday night. Lots of folks have left the Capitol Hill clubs full of beer, and make their way to the Link. They wait, then take the train to Northgate. By the time they are there, they could really use a restroom. Whether they are walking ten minutes to their apartment, or waiting for the bus, they could really use a bathroom.

    2. “If you’re going to force people to wait 20 minutes for a bus, the least you can do is give them a place to pee, while they’re waiting.”

      Ah, for the record, it is not ST that is forcing the rider to wait 20 minutes for an infrequent bus with an unreliable schedule, it is Metro.

      As such, if Metro is the one causing this problem, then Metro should be the one providing the restrooms. Or at least Metro should be paying ST for a portion of the cost of the restrooms.

      Fair is fair.

      1. both agencies: in fall 2021, outbound riders will transfer between Link and Route 522 at Roosevelt. in 2023, Route 554, or its successor route will serve an East Link station. Today, riders transfer between Link and Route 542 at UW station.

  3. Joe’s suggestion is a good one. Does ST need to own the restroom space, or can it coordinate with a nearby establishment with good facilities? At Bellevue TC, there’s a Starbucks right there that could be a good partner for providing a public restroom.

    I believe in Boise, bars are required to keep their restrooms open to the public. The cost of maintaining a public restroom is basically included in the cost of owning a liquor license. Joe’s suggestion follows the same logic.

    1. More retail options at transit hubs is always a good thing. But, it needs to be done in such a way that the restroom isn’t limited by the retail’s operating hours. The Bellevue Transit Center restroom is located inside of a building which is locked outside of weekday daytime hours. The rest of the time, people transferring buses just have to hold it in. We can do better than that.

  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/nyregion/bryant-park-restroom-renovation.html I have visited Bryant Park several times all before the renovation of the story. The restrooms were pleasant and well-maintained. There were flowers. Bryant is an active public space with private management. There are table and chairs and chess sets. It holds fashion week. It may be stop library story. Since my last visit, 5th Avenue has bus lanes. Bellevue TC had a public restroom to the north of island; I am not sure if it is still open. If ST provides long headways, restrooms will be more important. Retail at stations would be more likely to succeed with housing instead of car storage.

  5. Actually thete is a honey bucket at the skate park right next to redmond tc so you have options to use the bathroom there.

  6. Restrooms in subway stations are needed as a generic design feature. However, they certainly have challenges as they become the “restroom of last resort” for both riders and non-riders. It’s pretty disconcerting when an unmonitored restroom becomes a shooting gallery for illegal drug deals — and there are a handful of people who leave public restrooms extremely unhygienic. It’s a sad day when the mass public has to lose comfort because of the actions of a few.

    There comes a point when we should consider how to “subsidize” restroom maintenance by adding some rental space or other public uses where they are located. After all, that’s how regional shopping malls afford their restrooms.

    These uses seem compatible ways to do it:

    – Manned access mode vendors. Bicycle rentals or parking attendants, and auto rental counters are examples. Even tour waiting areas could be hosted.

    – Active public facilities. It would be strategic to put police precincts, libraries, licensing or registration offices, transit lost/found, tourist info, utility bill payment counters or post offices adjacent to stations if not in them. I doubt a rider would hesitate to ask for access as long as the wait isn’t long.

    Implantation is where design and oversight matters. It likely requires special training and attentive monitoring to make any supporting use viable as a restroom overseer. Just dedicating square footage and installing plumbing facilities isn’t going to be good enough.

    1. This has been a contentious issue between Mercer Island and ST after ST designated Mercer Island the bus intercept for the eastside, but refused to install any public bathrooms, even though an eastside commuter to Seattle would have to drive to a park and ride, catch a feeder bus, and wait for the train, and under the “optimal service configuration” (ST’s term) up to 14,000 off-Island passengers could pass through the Island per day, more than 1/2 the city’s total population.

      There are no retail or restaurants near the station except a gas station that will likely be developed, and those businesses closer to the town center have indicated they will not serve as a public bathroom for hundreds of people per day (no surprise). I work in downtown Seattle and the Starbucks on 1st and Yesler was required to open its bathrooms to the general public, and had to close because of it pre-pandemic, and now that once pretty vibrant site is empty. Since Mercer Island’s station sits down below between the north/south lanes of ST this narrow waiting area could end up a de facto bathroom, or the vegetation along the station entrances.

      Seattle tried public bathrooms in the past in Pioneer Square and it failed spectacularly. The main issues are maintenance and cost. Seattle tried to go to “maintenance-free bathrooms” that would sanitize themselves, except each one was exorbitantly priced, and they were vandalized quickly. No tourist would use one, and they were littered with needles, condoms and excrement, and used for prostitution, so not only did Seattle pay a fortune for self-cleaning bathrooms, the city had to regularly maintain and repair them. They were eventually removed.

      The other issue is safety, especially for women, which usually means individual bathrooms and not communal bathrooms, which raises costs. Cities are not going to permit a bunch of Sani-cans outside a station entrance like Capitol Hill.

      As a result cities like Mercer Island that don’t even want to be a bus intercept (and never was keen about a rail station or being a HCT either) don’t want to pay for the cost of bathrooms, or the cost to maintain them, and you can’t require a private business to serve as ST’s de facto bathroom for free, except like security ST is very, very lax at any agreements it makes, so no one trusts ST to clean the bathrooms or maintain them.

      The reality is there are a number of light rail stations that bathrooms would be used for mostly illicit uses, would get vandalized, and would become unusable for the general public. Telling those areas that will be politically tricky, although there are other stations with high volumes (S. Bellevue, Mercer Island, Bellevue 112th ST) that could and should have bathrooms.

      1. I used that bathroom at Pioneer Square a couple of times and didn’t find any needles, excrement, or condoms. I didn’t feel unsafe either, and since there was a line to use it I don’t think any of the others felt all that unsafe.

        I understand that this is purely anecdotal, and unable to withstand actual proof. But I’m not sure I would consider your word actual proof.

      2. Most of this is why I think some retail should come with it. I am all for making clear if you enter the restroom your picture will be taken going in and leaving (but not inside). The restrooms will be checked every 15-30 minutes to bust bullies, vandals, etc. There you go.

      3. Driver restrooms and public restrooms are different issues, Daniel.

        The Mt Baker Transit Center (among others) has driver restrooms that are key-controlled so that the public cannot use them.

      4. So, to boil it down: Don’t trust the bathrooms (especially you women — Dan knows more about the real dangers to women than actual women). We will spend too much on them. There will be needles everywhere, especially on Mercer Island, as junkies will take the train there, just to enjoy those sweet, sweet bathrooms. Many will be used for illicit purposes, or vandalized, but not in the suburbs, because nothing bad ever happens in the suburbs. Which is why they should have bathrooms.

        Oh, and we can’t add Sanikans in Capitol Hill, even though there are plenty in places like Lake City. Did I forget something Daniel?

  7. Thanks for mentioning my comments! I want Sound Transit to see TransLink as a model in so many ways (e.g. governance, station design & wayfinding).

  8. Excellent news for all of us with less-than-fully-functioning bodies.

    Could go with the European model: $0.50 to use the station’s bathroom because it’s staffed by an attendant who keeps it very clean & safe.

    1. Al S., I understand driver and public bathrooms are separate issues. For example Mercer Island has driver bathrooms. No one is debating that.

      The issue is if ST plans on having eastside commuters or riders drive to a park and ride to catch a feeder bus to a train station, and up to 14,000/day could access Mercer Island, there needs to be a place to go the bathroom that is not on the street, in a bush, or at the station landing. Asking local businesses to provide free bathrooms, or Mercer Island to fund the bathrooms and their cleaning and maintenance when the settlement agreement never agreed to a bus intercept or any funding for bathrooms, is not legal.

      The other issue is how to ensure the bathrooms that will be open to the general public since ST does not restrict access to stations with turnstiles are clean and safe. That IMO will depend on the area.

      In Pioneer Square the public bathrooms became unusable. As noted in the first link I provided, even the homeless found the bathrooms unusable. The bathroom at the 1st and Yesler Starbucks was simply unusable when you went into it after it was opened to the general public. Look, I pee standing up so can usually use most bathrooms no matter how foul, but I get a little nervous when the floor and sink are littered with bloody needles and syringes.

      1. I forgot to add: the people most opposed to opening the bus driver bathrooms on Mercer Island to the general public are the bus drivers.

      2. We should have paid bathrooms like in Europe.

        Drivers should have a separate bathroom from the public one. Public bathrooms inevitably get vandalized, and drivers should have something better.

        Metro has arrangements with several organizations at bus layover points for drivers to use their restroom. The ones I know of are at the Convention Center and Magnuson Park. The driver has a key for those that are locked.

      3. Tell me again why you think people from Issaquah and Newport are bad drug addicts hell-bent on abusing restrooms, Daniel? That’s where most if not all of these 7000 people transferring twice on a weekday will be living. Have you witnessed any problem restroom in Eastgate, Newport or Issaquah?

        Pioneer Square Starbucks is about as relevant as a bathroom in Paris.

  9. Shouldn’t public facilities actually be *easier* to maintain at lower ridership stations? If anything, maintenance and customer service expense is just as well an argument to *only* put restrooms in lightly used stations! If (most) popular parks have facilities, (most) transit stations should as well, though how they are managed can vary.

    I would NOT be in favor of turning private business’s floor space into a restroom queue! Note that those restrooms are designed with a certain capacity in mind, which is generally less than appropriate for a transit station in a large city! Rather, the role of private industry should be as a contractor to maintain sanitation and security, charging a nominal fee at some challenging locations if needed.

    Finally, the problem with Seattle’s experiment with public restrooms in Pioneer Square (and Vancouver between Gastown and Chinatown) is more there were never enough to meet the need. If there are constantly queues, not only at peak hours, you have a supply problem. They were being used way beyond the capacity they were designed for, so OF COURSE it didn’t end well. Straight out of the “starve government then complain when it is ineffective” playbook, IMO.

  10. Did you actually read these articles? Politicians, NIMBY businesses, and anecdotal stories aside, the people who were actually in charge of the bathrooms had this to say.

    “But representatives of Seattle Public Utilities, the agency responsible for overseeing the toilets, said they’re doing some good and will improve next month.”

    The people with the actual data seemed to think they weren’t problematic. Just the people speaking from their own anecdotal experience. I will definitely take SPU’s word over anecdotes, “business alliances, “improvement districts” and “associations” any day of the week.

      1. Sold on Ebay due to the outcry of all those NIMBY “business alliances, “improvement districts” and “associations”. They were called out for a reason.

  11. Public transit bathrooms can get pretty disgusting. People use the sinks to wash their bodies and clothes. If there are outlets in them, they won’t leave because they are charging their cells. But, they are still necessary, so I’m glad they are being built.

    Worst public transit bathroom I’ve ever seen was at a bus station in Israel decades ago. There was no door to the bathroom entrance, there were no sinks, mirrors, stall doors, toilets, urinals or toilet paper. There were only holes in the ground separated by partitions.

      1. You missed one tiny point Ross: the citizens of Mercer Island are demanding public bathrooms if we are to serve as a bus intercept. Did I not make that clear.

        If you want Sanicans in Pinehurst more power to you. If there is one thing I have always acknowledged – except your knowledge of transit -it is you don’t understand the women who determine society because they buy everything. Not a lot of Super Bowl ads for old men like us.

        The good news is Mercer Island will win the litigation and never serve as a bus intercept. The bad news, in some respects, is working from home will make the “optimal” service configuration (20 articulated buses per peak hour), “improved bus configuration” (16 buses) or “limited/ original” bus configuration (12 buses/hour) (I am guessing you can figure out who came up with the nomenclature) a fantasy with working from home, along with East Link ridership projections.

        The bad news for Mercer Island is there was a time the bus intercept was a valuable negotiating tool. Now, transit on the Eastside without the commuter is an amusement ride, and those who used to use it hate it because of the arrogance and crummy service of ST and Metro. .

        Despite Metro’s delusions the greatest leveler between rich and poor commuter is working from home. Personally I am going to miss all the young and energetic staff in the office, but they won’t miss me. They are young with families and hated commuting to work on transit while I drove from the North end of Mercer Island.

        Transit for them has been a prison. I am glad they are free. I too once was young with small children.
        I understand, but there absence will devastate Seattle’s vibrancy, but that has been dying for years.

    1. Or just free within the normal Orca transfer window? That should be sufficient to exclude (or charge) non transit riders.

      So if you are catching your first bus/train, the 2 hour clock starts with you use the restroom, which is equivalent to the clock starting when you tap into the Link fare area.

    2. Matt, I am just older and less idealistic.

      I believe what a city or agency can ultimately do or provide depends on the amount of money it has, and how efficiently it operates. All the dreams in the world won’t change that, because even progressives won’t work for free (especially if they are unionized).

      Metro isn’t reducing levels of service 25% through 2040 despite probable population gains because it wants to. Those cuts are based on predictions on loss of farebox recovery and general fund revenues, which determine subsidies. If transit were not so heavily subsidized we would not be having this discussion.

      Same with ST. The cost overruns for the N. King Co. subarea were predicted, although not $4 billion (which means $8 billion in 2029 for ST including the second tunnel), but it is the likely but unpredicted loss of ridership, farebox recovery, and general fund revenue in the N. King Co. subarea which directly affect service levels and which projects ST can complete. If HB 1304 plugs that hole great, but it will be very expensive. I don’t think some on this blog understand how much $8 billion is, and $8 billion is probably low just to complete ST 3.

      I find it a bit silly to argue about bathrooms or lidding I-5 or Cascadia or mild upzones in unaffordable residential neighborhoods when residents are fleeing downtown Seattle, to “solve” the first/last mile issue when ST is stating they are billions and billions and billions underfunded for the projects it promised in the one subarea transit makes sense, and Metro is talking about reducing first/last mile access when rail will add a seat and transfer to most trips.

      Good lord, start and finish the second transit tunnel if you want a sobering thought before talking about lidding I-5, or accusing someone of promoting American Carnage (and I bet I donated a LOT more money to Biden and Democrats this last election than you did).

      Transit is a tool. It has one advantage, cost, but has disadvantages when it comes to convenience, safety, first/last mile access, and every other metric, most importantly time if you have to be someplace at a certain time. I had hoped ST and light rail would close the gap, but with Metro’s reductions in service and lack of frequency in first/last mile access, and ST unable to complete a rail system in Seattle, I think transit will decline, while EV’s will eliminate the climate argument, Uber/Lyft will solve short urban trips, and working from home will disinterest a very large, tax paying, commuter based, voter base towards transit (which should free up more tax money for things like education and the homeless issue).

      Is that American Carnage? I don’t think so. No one will suffer. Working from home is the best and most equitable thing for the working class in decades. EV’s solve the climate issue (but force Metro to electrify which further reduces levels of service) and allow the best method for non-peak transportation. Life goes on, it always does, and citizens choose the best mouse trap, no matter what it is. I think that is the opposite of American Carnage. It is American ingenuity.

      Light rail looked like it would be a better mouse trap for commuters despite exorbitant costs, but then came the cost overruns, lines to places like Tacoma and Everett when no one commutes that far, decline in general fund subsidies, lack of real first/last mile access, and working from home, so it isn’t a better mouse trap, and Metro never was. So people who can will find a better mouse trap until ST and Metro make people WANT to take transit. I don’t know why anyone (except maybe ST) would think that is American Carnage. It is just Econ 101.

      What I am really worried about, however, and is American Carnage, is the future decline in general fund revenue in Seattle, and how that will affect funding for education, the homeless, subsidized housing and healthcare, and so many other critical needs.

  12. If you have to pay to use it, it’s not a public restroom. No amount of complaining that it might get dirty is going to convince me to be ok with yet more anti-homeless, anti-public measures in what is supposed to be public infrastructure.

    1. It’s common to charge a small fee for public restrooms in Europe and Asia. The American expectation of free public restrooms is mostly cultural.

    2. and the ST parking garages and lots are also public… and yet they are going to charge to use them. It’s the same thing. Oh.. you want free parking too. Got it.

      1. I’m with Adina on this one. Charging for a restroom in the US is purely an anti-homeless measure, and as such is elitist and discriminatory.

      2. I am just saying that ST will claim that bathrooms open to the general public at no cost are too expensive to maintain and clean, even on Mercer Island, so no bathrooms, which is what ST argues now and what we have now. Fine with me I guess. So no public bathrooms. Anywhere. Next issue.

        If you want to charge for park and rides fine, except please understand you are not punishing wealthy, white, car owning eastside commuters, because those folks already drive to work and park there. They don’t take transit to work.

        You are punishing the same class of transit users who have to walk to a feeder bus in Seattle to go to a train station, except the park and ride user has no local feeder bus because it would be cost prohibitive for Metro to provide any kind of frequent bus service, even though east King Co. pays a lot towards Metro.

        Now they can’t afford the cost of the park and ride and the roundtrip transit fare, because the cost of the park and ride is not counted against the transit fare although a feeder bus is, and there is NO feeder bus. Luckily they can work from home now. Problem solved (except for transit that cannot afford the loss of ridership. Seems fair: charge for park and rides, never ride transit again, decimate transit levels of service. Who wins that one).

        It is the same logic that Metro uses to reallocate bus service from transit users in the north to the south because the transit users in the south are Black and funding is declining, although each group financially must take transit. Ok, if that is their logic. I don’t live in north Seattle and don’t take transit. But I don’t understand some of the logic of these decisions, even though none affect me.

        But I would keep my eye on the really big issue, future general fund revenue and transit subsidies in the N. King Co. subarea, and Metro’s 25% reduction in service levels. ST is not being honest about those future revenue numbers (or the “new” $ billion cost overruns on ST 3), and the numbers are huge.

        30 minute or even 15 minute frequency x 2 for feeder bus and train makes a bathroom a lot more important.

      3. Easy fix: restroom entry by Orca card that acts like paying a fare. You have 90 minutes of transit travel if it’s the first tap, and it works merely like a free transfer if you’ve already tapped your card.

        Shouldn’t we call them “rider restrooms” rather than “public restrooms”?

    3. We can provide free toilet cards or tokens for the homeless the same way we provide low-income or free transit passes. The point is that the restroom is attended, and fees on the top 80% help pay for the attendant. Having an attendant there means it will be cleaner and be a deterrent to inappropriate activity. The reason there aren’t more public restrooms now is people vandalize them, shoot drugs in them, often leave the needles behind, have sex in them, or just leave a mess. Attendants would minimize that problem. Arguing that it must be all or nothing — all public toilets must be free — means there will be hardly any public toilets. If you want people to stop pissing in alleys and elevators, there have to be toilets they can use. Even non-poor people have to go in the evenings.

      In the 1970s airports had several paid stalls and one free stall. My parents said it was for people who don’t have change. That could be a model. You can wait until the free one is vacant or pay for one of the others.

      1. The bathrooms at the Link Seatac Station somehow manage to be devoid of needles and vandalism without an attendant. Since Kent RJC uses the station to (illegally) dump homeless individuals arrested and held overnight there, you’d think that there’d be an issue following your logic.

  13. To argue bathrooms should not include a charge at transit stations because they are “public infrastructure” would suggest ST and Metro can’t charge to use transit because it is “public infrastructure”, and charging a fare is “anti-public”.

    Most subways and transit stations require a charge to access the station, for example through a turnstile, and the bathrooms are past the turnstile, so yes there is a cost to use a bathroom in those stations, the cost of the fare, which is much higher than what some are proposing for local light rail stations.

    The alternative, as ST promotes, is no public bathrooms at all at any station, like now, and my guess is ST will use the argument that any kind of charge to use a restroom that is open to the entire public is unfair or anti-public as exactly why ST will not include bathrooms at any station, although ST’s real motivation is cost. Not sure how that helps the homeless or transit public at large. I guess just hold it.

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