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Transit’s missing link: The public toilet

Kitsap Transit’s sparkling new North Viking Transit Center fails to serve their regular customer who is on a short “bladder leash”.  Unless they are able to “hold it” for nearly two hours, riders transiting between the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal and Port Townsend are out of luck.  This is a classic illustration of how the public toilet is so often the missing link in the success of a transit system.

UPDATE Thanks to rider pushback, Kitsap Transit placed a portapotty at the new North Viking Transit Center on March 9, 2017.  While making it possible for many more passengers to use the service, this does not excuse the lack of provision of a proper public restroom in the first place.


Kitsap Transit bus 90 meets Jefferson Transit Line 7 at the new North Viking Transit Center.

Why has this suddenly become an issue?  In late 2016, Kitsap Transit opened a large Park and Ride facility in the middle of nowhere.  This replaced a more modest bus platform where the passengers transferred between Kitsap Bus 90 and Jefferson Transit’s #7. It was served by a simple portapotty used by both drivers and passengers alike.  Moreover, it was near restaurants and shops where riders could shelter in the event of a major transit disruption.

No expense has been spared on the new North Viking Transit Center. Except on the restroom that is.  A sweeping pavilion accommodates four full size buses at once. It’s surrounded by a huge parking lot equipped with numerous spaces with outlets for electrical vehicles. An ample number of spaces serve disabled drivers, including those who need additional room to exit their vehicles. (See photos at end of post.)

The pavilion is festooned with attractive welcome banners in four languages and large easy-to-read digital clocks.  Current transit schedules are posted.  Architects clearly paid attention to CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design); there are clean sightlines and windowed walls. While there are no corners where an unsuspecting customer can be trapped,  there is likewise no shelter from winter winds.

Fruit trees have been planted around the property to symbolize the “commitment to being part of the solid roots that Kitsap Transit has within the community that we serve now and for years to come.” Expensive, solar powered Big Belly trash compactors manage the solid waste that riders generate but there is no provision for human waste or for human dignity.

According to Kitsap Transit Customer Service specialist Trudy Stacy, “The decision not to have public restrooms available at our new North Viking Transit Center and Park & Ride was one made by our Board of Directors.  It costs so much in staff and labor to properly maintain and keep them safe and secure, that they opted not to do that at this facility.”  She added however, that the decision was being reconsidered.

Now is the time to let Kitsap Transit know the discomfort and humiliation that their lack of a restroom causes regular commuters, to say nothing of the visitors-without-cars that Port Townsend would like to attract.

It’s also important to get the support of Jefferson Transit’s board as it’s their early morning commuters to Seattle that suffer the most.  Jefferson Transit is now a better ally because they have finally put a porty potty at Haines Park and Ride.  The preferred option would be a separate entrance in their customer service building, but the porta potty is a start.

Here’s what we can do:

  1. Speak out to Kitsap Transit.  Go on line here and express your dismay at the lack of a restroom or simply send Ms Stacy an email or ring her at 360-475-0824. Emphasize the the discomfort and anger riders feel as they wait in the cold and watch drivers walk away for breaks in the warmth and comfort of the restoom-equipped Kitsap Transit headquarters
  2. Write to the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners and attend a twice-monthly Tuesday meeting.  The Clerk of the Board is Jill Boltz, available at 360-478-6230 or via email.
  3. Write members of the Kitsap Transit Citizens Advisory Committee and attend one of their monthly meetings.  Read manual Transit 101 for the CAC.
  4. Get the support of the Jefferson Transit Authority Board. Monthly meetings are on third Tuesdays at 1:30pm.
  5. To support local transportation goals and the Jefferson County climate action plan, get the City of Port Townsend, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Fort Worden PDA, the Historical Society, the Marine Science Center, and all of the festivals organizers to tell prospective visitors the options for getting to PT by public means.
  6. Bring attention to the car-centric directions on websites of these local players, make the case for change and provide the necessary information so they can make information available.
  7. Ask Enjoy PT to target the growing audiences in Seattle, Victoria, Portland and Vancouver that do not own cars or prefer not to drive them. Invite them to use transit and other means and tell them how.
  8. Think in terms of increasing demand first and letting supply follow.

Riders must wait in outside in the cold while the driver of Jefferson Transit Bus 7 takes a break in the warmth of the nearby restroom-equipped Kitsap Transit headquarters.


Drivers’ bathroom is in Kitsap Transit’s headquarters building,  which is off limits to riders.




Solar powered Big Belly solid waste compactors mix trash and recyclables.


Attractive banners welcome riders in several languages.


Drivers of electric vehicles are accommodated at the bus bay platform.


Multiple spots serve handicapped drivers. Note extra space for vans with lifts and ramps.


Kitsap Transit may be committed to sustainability and fruit trees                               but what about the comfort and health of their customers?


For Annie

A rare Internet stream of mails from those who love you found us in the wilderness. You were in pain, surrounded by Ginger and Jimi and Elisabeth. Broad calm horizons surrounded me as we motored, sometimes sailed, south from Alaska. I balanced my pain at your pain with gratitude to you for all the joy and encouragement and self confidence you brought into my life.

ab_salmon_finalI spent several days just leaning against mast, letting the recollections become more vivid. Hilarious storytelling with Laurie, sitting on the floor, getting through the cold Marrakesh winter. The color of the wildflowers on Jebel Yagour: our mules delivered us to the top, we made fresh, clean grass beds in the stone sheep-herders huts. Your unwavering vision: Watching your business grow so amazingly was inspiring. The postcard of you striding out in that orange jacket was on the wall above my desk. Our reunions always restored me, especially when Mom and Dad got old and I had just a bit of time to stop in the city and see you. I bet I’m not the only one trying to adopt your creative-positive-can-do attitude. But moving ahead without you will be tough.

“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept, remembering thee.” When news that you’d finished your passage came, I was still at sea. The calm beautiful waters were my handkerchief, an ever-changing textile. You would have loved the hues and textures! The billowy chiffons, the far out prints, the easy pleats, the sparkles and sequins. Here are a few of my favorites. From our passage, from your passage.











Jack’s first day on our beach

This for for Marion. Today wouldn’t have happened without Marion, DASH and the new beach chair.  (Update: For the complete story of how this beach chair and also a beach walker came to our community, please see the comments below by Anne McEnery, Jefferson County Public Health Development Disabilities Coordinator and Marion Huxtable of DASH.)

Jack spent this afternoon on the beach in front of our house, a crescent that sweeps from Point Hudson to the lighthouse out on Point Wilson.  It was his first time in the eleven years that we’ve been in Port Townsend either as moorage tenants or homeowners.

On dune

From atop a dune, we watched the ceremonial arrival of the tribal canoes.

Not only was the weather perfect, today was the Canoe Journey. We sat atop the dune and watched the ceremonial arrival of crews from from Canadian First Nations and tribes from the outer coast and throughout the Salish Sea.  As each canoe approached the shore,  elders of the tribe who were sitting under a tent would request permission to come ashore from the Jamestown S’Kallalam. After  drumming, song, and prayers in the native languages, crews carried their canoes onto the beach, with help from Port Townsend folks.

Tribal crew carries canoe onto the beach with local folks lending a hand.

Tribal crew hoists their canoe onto the beach with local folks lending a hand.

We’d picked up the beach chair at the Cablehouse Beach Canteen at the head of the pier. Signed a waver, left drivers’ licence and credit card, although there is no cost.

We started our walk on the stretch of beach between the light house and the pier. The chair is surprisingly easy to push, although I got help pushing up the dune.  Since there are drift logs high on the dunes, it’s a good idea to make sure the path you’ve chosen is not blocked by a log.  It’s easy enough to find a suitable path and important to stay on paths and not damage the dune grass.

The easiest stretch of beach to move on is just east of the pier.  Hard packed sand is smooth and yet leads to interesting low tide wildlife.


This stretch of beach is an easy roll










Further along there is good, accessible wildlife viewing.

A tiny close up landscape of barnacles, seaworms, drills, and seaweed in diverse shapes and colors.

A tiny close up landscape of barnacles, seaworms, drills, and seaweed in diverse shapes and colors.









About halfway down, the beach turns rocky so it’s nice to move to the long, low-tide spit.  It’s fairly easy to push the chair over the seaweed-covered stones. We looked for a narrower band of them and stopped to turn over stones and see what was under them.

Once on the spit, it’s easy going again.  As we got toward Point Hudson awe cross to the path on shore. Here we got into some difficulty because the tide was now coming in. We headed for the green patches, but here they are not seaweed-covered rock but eelgrass.  Eel grass grows fast in the summer and it’s hard to estimate how much of it is floating on the surface. We got into deeper water and probably did some damage to this important salmon habitat.  But as happened all along the walk, some folks helped us get to shore.

At low tide a long firm spit leads past Chetzamoka Park to Point Hudson.

At low tide, a long firm spit leads past Chetzmoka Park to Point Hudson.

After dropping Jack off near home and bringing his scooter, I walked the chair back down the beach. This took a while as I was repeatedly stopped by beach walkers with questions! A woman from Sequim who’d never imagined a beach chair, came up open-mouth in amazement.  She’d noticed people moving with difficulty along Dungeness Spit.  Two paddlers from  the Jamestown S’Kallam tribe took photos of the chair to Facebook so they can start a campaign to get a chair for their elders.

So hats off to Marion and her colleagues at DASH.  The folks at the Fort Worden Canteen are displaying the chair and a fat-wheeled walker right at the front door.   I offered to give the chair a shower before returning it but they said they’s take care of it. The sign out procedure is fine, though I see no reason to leave both drivers’ license and credit card.  The form, moreover, should not ask borrowers to write down credit card number.

What I’d really like to see is DASH take some credit and use the beach chair to do some education.  A clear plastic pocket could be attached to the back of the seat.  Information about project partners, availability and instructions for use could be prominently displayed there. Small handouts of some kind could be included for those who want to tell others or who are interested in getting chairs for their communities.  And why not give chair users a chance to make a donation?

The Sidewalks of Sequim

This post is for Richard, who has introduced me to more interesting people and initiatives than anybody I know.  He absorbs good ideas and passes them on.

Last week Jack and I traveled from Prince Rupert on the British Columbia Mainland just south of the Alaskan border to our house in Port Townsend.  It’s a pleasant trip which with good planning and an air ticket can be done in a single day by public transportation.  It starts with a Prince Rupert walk to free shuttle to free ferry after which bus shuttles onto flat island with airport to flight to Vancouver and 20 minutes to walk to nearby gate and catch another tiny plane to Victoria, a small convient airport with BC transit service to the Inside Harbour from where there’s the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles and then a Calallam  County transit bus to Sequim before the home stretch – the Jefferson County Transit bus #8 to Port Townsend.

Our very last connection meant a two hour layover in Sequim, which surprised and delighted us.  Here are some pictures.


The first thing to catch my eye was this restroom which gives a delightful street face to a parking lot.  Note wayfinding signs, bulletin board, and trash and recycling bins.


Restroom is loaded with amenities on both sides. Attractive bike racks, landscaping, good signage and cultural information.  Across the street is the new civic plaza.

Top of Totem

Totem dominating the civic plaza tells the story of the origin of the fun and the moon.


We’ve seen hundreds of totems this summer and this contemporary one by a Jamestown S’Kalallam carver is perhaps the most exquisitely designed and executed.

Sitting man

What a surprise to find this guy sitting on a plaza bench nearby!  


Then we noticed started to notice very cool temporary public art all around.


Local textile artists had come out to celebrate Lavender Festival, which was last weekend.

Library Restroo

We went on  to the library to get some juice for our devices. Restrooms there are in the entrance lobby, not hidden in the stacks. (Actually, I forget. This smart design might be in the new restroom structure four blocks away. )

Pocket Park Lavender

And at the corner, this.  Two or three parking spaces given over to life.  You can lie on these benches – no middle armrest obstructions.  Color purple works nicely, abetted by simple lavender festival flags in every planter.

Corner of Parking Lot

Look at this community organization pile on!  The Olympic Music School sponsors floral planter designed and grown by Sequim High Schoolers. 

Painted Utility Box

Turning the corner onto the mainstreet, we see more sophisticated art, this time decorating a utility box.  Nearby is a decorated piano waiting to be played and more lavender banners and OPEN signs.

Pocket Park

Then a full fledged pocket park replete with a textile-artist enhanced bike rack and a neighborhood scale library. Okay, across at most ten urban blocks we find all these amenities and all these surprises.  Sequim streetlife rocks!

PT Disappointemnt

Then we arrive in Port Townsend and I saw this.  Is it new or had I not noticed?  Sad, tacky, unwelcoming, inconvenient. And are these businesses being paid, as they would be under any good community toilet scheme?

We can do better.  Sequim should inspire us to action.


World Water Week Theme: Urban Water (via Water For People DC News)

Old Town Chinatown’s Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was a co-convener of this special session at World Water Week in Stockholm. Surprising to see a little group included among the likes of IWA, UNICEF, EAWAG and SEI. Could it be that there are precious few grassroots citizens’ groups working on sanitation issues? Come to think of it, are there any others that really started from the bottom up?

World Water Week Theme: Urban Water Yesterday marked the conclusion of World Water Week in Stockholm, during which 2,600 global water experts met for over 100 sessions to discuss the issues was water and sanitation around the globe. “We face an unmitigated disaster. Jaipur, India is out of water. What’s going to happen to places like that?” said Paul Reiter, executive director of the International Water Association (IWA), at the closing ceremony in Stockholm this morning. “We’re ad … Read More

via Water For People DC News

Restroom Interior, 1912 (via Vintage Portland)

Thanks to Dan Davis who blogs at Vintage Portland, we know how glorious public toilet facilities used to be. And this is the women’s room at a time when most public restrooms served only men.

Restroom Interior, 1912 Going downstairs from yesterday's restroom entrance would have taken you to this amazing underground "comfort station." The women's room provided an attendant, tile mosaics, steam heating, and marble stall dividers. The restrooms were "restored to original" during the transit mall construction in the 1970s but vandalism forced permanent closure shortly thereafter. (University of Oregon Libraries) … Read More

via Vintage Portland

Restroom Entrance, 1912 (via Vintage Portland)

Dan Davis has a couple of great posts this week on the historic underground comfort station near Pioneer Courthouse. Dan does his homework, turning over stones and single handedly making Portland more fascinating than anyone expected.

I “like”d this post and now I find I may be able to reblog it. Lazy blogger’s road to happiness! Let’s see if it works.

Restroom Entrance, 1912 Early 20th Century Portland provided a pair of underground restrooms at SW 6th and Yamhill that were almost elegant, especially by today's standards. This women's room entrance looks west, with the Portland Hotel in the background and the Pioneer Courthouse to our immediate right. A matching men's room is just around the corner on 6th. In fact these entrances, and restrooms below, still stand. Long closed, you can peek through the door cracks and … Read More

via Vintage Portland

Recycling Bin Urinals: Would they work as a stop gap measure?

Imagine an ordinary plastic recycling bin with a hinged lid and wheels of the type seen curbside and on sidewalks throughout the US. Fit into the side is a wide mouth funnel which functions as  urinal.  A tube extends to a compartment underneath the usual bin which converts the urine into high quality natural fertilizer.

Swiss designer Stephen Bischof has field tested his innovative prototype on the busy streets of South London, where video monitoring confirmed its acceptance by users.  The press, the design community, and experts in ecological sanitation have all taken note.

Considering the challenge of dealing with public urination in US cities, the Recycling Bin Urinal merits serious consideration.  First, it presents an opportunity to decriminalize public urination when people simply cannot find an available toilet.  Granted, a recycling bin meets neither the standards of dignity nor the privacy criteria expected of a public toilet.   But in areas of cities where homeless people gather at night for their safety, these emergency urinals are likely to be welcomed.

Even when public toilets are available within a reasonable distance, homeless men and women are understandably reluctant to go to them if it means packing up their belongings and or leaving them behind. The bins can be discretely rolled to a nearby alcove at night. Women can use the facility to dump urine collected in a drugstore urinal or directly with the assistance of any of a number of inexpensive cardboard or plastic funnels available on the market.

Environment activists and advocates for the rights of homeless people might do well to think out of the box and embrace this idea. Decriminalize urination, collect trash and recycle urine using the same small footprint receptacle?  Maybe this is a place to start.

APTs disappear in favor of old fashioned, hand-washed toilets. Didn’t PHLUSH say APTs would never work?

The New York Times reports another failure of the European automatic public toilets, or APTs.  This time the 34th Street Parternership, an NYC  business improvement district, learned the hard way.  Their $500,000 toilet cost $100,000 per year to maintain and very few people were brave enough to use it.
In early 2006, PHLUSH argued that APTs were NOT the way to go, even in a huge city market where they could be supported by advertising.  This was before the Seattle APT fiasco.   How long was it that the five expensive potties remained on Seattle’s streets before they were flogged on e-Bay for $89?
And what inspires confidence in toilet users?  The presence – full time or ocasional – of an attendant.  Says Jerome Barth, the 34th Street Partnership’s Vice President,  “It’s an attendant who knows what’s going on and has functions that go from sanitation to exchanging a few words with you to generally having a sense of what should be done.  People see them, and they know the bathrooms are clean.”

BTW we’re surprised that in her Blogtown post,  the normally astute Sarah Mirk gets it wrong: Fancy self-automated toilet’s like Portland’s loo are still mistrusted in NYC. The Portland Loo, while hefty and polished, is neither fancy nor “self-automated”.   It’s minimalist and  non-intimidating.  It’s got a sidewalk for a floor. And it gets a hand-washed by the folks from Clean and Safe .  (Also, Sarah, grammar alert: what’s with the random apostrophe?)

News from the [complete, walkable] Street

Byrne, Bluemenauer and Sadik-Khan at Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around event in Washington DC WashCycle summarizes remarks by the star studded panel at the December 8 event.   New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s called for a federal framework for urban street planning, saying local frameworks are too easily tied up in red tape and applauding Cities for Cycling.
NACTO launches Cities for Cycling The National Association of City Transportation Officials’  Cities for Cycling initiative will catalog, promote and implement the world’s best bicycle transportation practices in American municipalities.  According to the press release:  Cycling is booming in cities across the nation. Based on the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. census bureau, cycling as a share of transportation is up in major cities by as much as 72% from 2007-2008, with an average growth rate of over 30%…. From protected cycle-tracks to bike boxes and special traffic signals for bikes, Cities for Cycling seeks to share these best practices among leading cities and encourage State and Federal governments to adopt the new design treatments as standard practices, opening up funding and technical support opportunities and cutting red tape.

Mind the Gaps. Picture =1000 words. Connecting cul de sacs streets to form a grid is easy to visualize; a no brainer.  But can it happen in suburbia?   We hear the screaming already.  Maybe just easier to abandon dead houses on dead streets.  Sad.

New Urban News aggregates articles on Walkable Streets. Is it just our imagination, or was 2009 the year when Walkable Steets and the 20 minute neighborhoods became kitchen sink concepts?  And concepts that beg so many other questions: transportation policy, design standards, connecting the grid, the need for motorists,  razing freeways, multi-modality, shared streets, pedestrians and cyclists dealing with one another more intuitively.   Great stuff.

Complete streets fundamentals and policy guidance.  The National Complete Streets Coalition also has a bunch of basic tools for activists working with planners and city officials. There are FAQs, fact sheets on a whole slew of sub-issues, and  community workshops.

Walmart rejects idea of integrating store in walkable community.
Hurricane Katrina wrecked a WalMart in a Mississippi town, opening the way for new ideas about what WalMarts should look like.  Local architects presented three different plans, all with a full-size store and housing  above ground-level parking. Residents would have had views of the Gulf of Mexico and protection from hurricane-driven water. But Walmart reverted to a single-use building elevated six feet higher than the one ruined by Katrina with no on-site housing.