Pottyless in Seattle: age-old problem of where to go vexes city

Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:25pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Kaminsky

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle has endured sewage problems since the 19th century, when waste from flush toilets washed back to the city at high tide. Today, it is public potties that have officials of the West Coast city on the edge of their seats.

Seattle wants to replace five self-cleaning toilets that were installed a decade ago for more than $5 million but ended up auctioned on eBay for less than $13,000 because they were often used for drugs and prostitution.

In its search for the perfect prefabricated public toilet, the city is looking no farther than Portland, Oregon, its trendy neighbor, and the Portland Loo.

Patented by Portland in 2010, the toilet reflects the attitude of a number of North American municipalities that simple sidewalk toilets that meet a basic public need while discouraging other uses are the way to go.

"It's designed to be not convenient to go into and do something illicit or something you shouldn't be doing," said Linc Mann, spokesman for Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services, which oversees toilet maintenance in the city and helps cover its costs by selling the Portland Loo to other cities. The starting price: $90,000.

Although big enough to accommodate a bicycle or a stroller, the Portland Loo is much smaller than Seattle's previous large stainless steel toilets. It is also less private, with metal slats along the top and bottom that allow a view if police suspect illegal activity inside.

To cut the time people spend in the toilet and to discourage clothes washing, the sink is on the outside of the Portland Loo. And, unlike the toilets Seattle sold that had a three-minute self-cleaning cycle between each use, the Portland Loo is cleaned the old-fashioned way, twice a day.

Cities like Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have toilets similar to Seattle's castaways, with installation and maintenance costs typically paid by vendors in exchange for advertising in the toilets and at bus shelters.   Continued...

 
An underground public men's room located in Seattle's Westlake Square circa 1917 is shown in this handout photo courtesy of City of Seattle Municipal Archives, released to Reuters June 21, 2013. Seattle has endured sewage problems since the 19th century, when waste from flush toilets washed back to the city at high tide. Today, it is public potties that have officials of the West Coast city on the edge of their seats. REUTERS/City of Seattle Municipal Archives/Handout via Reuters