If you build it, they will go? Not in NYC's newest toilet.

// // 39 Comments
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Last week, New York City unveiled the first of twenty futuristic new public toilets intended to give desperate citizens a choice beyond waddling to the nearest Starbucks or crouching behind the nearest trashcan. The city is relying on state-of-the-art technology to avoid the crack addicts, prostitutes, and green puddles of god-knows-what that have plagued the public toilets of New York City's past: these toilets are self-cleaning and designed to operate safely and sanitarily without a human attendant.

But while I'm proud of the city for finally considering its citizens' most basic needs, it looks like their quest for automation has detracted from what should have been their goal: building toilets people would actually want to use.

From the New York Times review of the facility: "When the green light marked ‘vacant' is lit, 25 cents -- coins only, no bills -- starts the visit. What follows is possibly the longest and most awkward 20 to 30 seconds of a person's day. The door slips open like an elevator, but then it stays open, to accommodate those who need extra time getting in. Meanwhile, men and women in suits walk past. It is very difficult to look inconspicuous in a bathroom on a sidewalk in New York with the door open. There is just nothing to do but stand there."

Let's consider the user of a New York City street toilet. A street toilet is by definition a toilet of last resort, used only by users who don't have time to make it anywhere nicer. And as we all know, bowels in a state of panic are notorious for discharging when the eyes spot a toilet -- not necessarily when the butt actually sits on it. Imagine the desperate user who digs out his quarter, opens the door, dashes inside, and then has to make eye-contact with passers-by for thirty seconds before he can even loosen his belt.

"The toilet itself {is} an imposing, metal, cold-looking receptacle in the corner ... There is no seat to raise or lower, just the wide rim of the bowl, with covers made of tissue available in a dispenser to the side."



A cold toilet seat? A squared toilet seat? A seatless toilet seat??? No one will want to sit on this thing. American butts prefer porcelain horseshoes. This unfriendly, unfamiliar, sure-to-be-uncomfortable steel apparatus will drive people to hover instead of sit -- which will lead to a lot of spray-painting.

"{The black button} dispenses toilet paper. One will quickly familiarize oneself with that button, because the designers have deigned a little 16-inch strip the standard helping of paper. A word to the wise: There is a maximum of just three helpings."

Sixteen inches = four squares. Again, consider the user. He's only using this toilet because he's minutes from eruption. Eruption implies diarrhea. And diarrhea implies the need for a whole lot more than twelve squares of toilet paper.

"The floor is rubber and, more strikingly, very wet ... {the seat} too, is quite damp, for perfectly good reasons: when the visitor steps out, the door shuts again, but the "occupied" light stays lit. Strange hisses and spraying sounds come from within -- did someone slip past? No, actually, the room is cleaning itself. A robotic arm swings out over the toilet bowl and hits it with disinfectant, while similar jets spray across the sink and the floor. Then, dryers fan hot air over everything."

It's great that it's cleaned after every use. But you don't assume a wet floor or wet seat is due to cleaning -- you assume it's due to urine, and you guard your pants cuffs and butt cheeks accordingly.

"After 90 seconds of cleaning, the green light outside comes back on."

Let's again consider the users of this toilet. While our first hypothetical user has been resolving his situation, imagine a second who has been outside doing the waiting dance. The door finally opens and the second user's sphincter slackens in anticipation; but when the door slams shut, will the second user's sphincter do the same?

I believe that public conveniences are the mark of a civilized society, which makes me feel guilty to criticize New York's long-overdue effort to this ideal. But this toilet was not designed with users in mind. Instead, with its metal seat, its twelve-square paper limit, its thirty-second open-door policy, it was designed primarily to maximize the time between maintenance visits. Which results in a facility that actually works against the very people who need it most.

The primary goal should have been to give users a place they'd want to poop; the form of the facility should have followed this function. Based on the Times' review, if I'm stuck short anywhere near Madison and 23rd, even if I've got a quarter in my pocket, I'm going to duckwalk it to the Starbucks a few blocks away.

39 Comments on "If you build it, they will go? Not in NYC's newest toilet."

Bilgepump's picture
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4 squares? No sea shells??? New York City sux. Give me back my stinky port-o-potty, with industrial sized rolls of sand paper one-ply...fuck technology.

"One of the founding members of the Front Page Hyena Pack, and runs as its alpha male when the urge strikes him, which is often." Daphne (one perceptive chick)

The Big Wiper's picture
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That's Robo-Toilet! A Cyborg Crapper! (Deep voice): "Luke, feel the cold force. Lower your buttocks onto the steel surface. May the F-F-F-Force be with you...brrrrr!"

Pulling My Pants Down For Peace, Plop and Posterity!

Pulling My Pants Down For Peace, Plop and Posterity!

prarie doggin's picture
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And coming soon for the "desperate users", the toilets will be accepting EZ-PASS.

RoboCrap13's picture
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EZ-PASS?? Will that be a laxative dispensor?

Big Wiper, I can have the Excrement Droid 209a blast that thing out of existence in a heartbeat. ;)


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You have the right to remain Silent but Deadly....

You have the right to remain Silent but Deadly....

prarie doggin's picture
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Sorry, that will have to remain as a regional joke, but laxative dispensor is hilarious.

RoboCrap13's picture
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EZ-PASS is a radiochip card that is used to pay the fares on tollroads and bridges. When the card passes the sensor, the toll is deducted from your bank account or charged to your credit card.

The things you learn from watching "Law & Order". (BUM-BUM!!!)
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prarie doggin's picture
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Yes it is sort of like big brother with his hand in your pocket.

poopcrayon's picture
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it doesn't look like there is even a seat and it looks cold. they had paper ass gaskets next to it though(why couldn't those be updated?). i dont think any of those people in the picture would even use one in their lifetime, yet they gaze at it so lovingly.

i just realized that they look like the toilets at the public restrooms on the santa monica pier. if that's the case, i want nothing to do with them.


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all aboard the farty train to pooterville..if you can't shit at my house, we aren't friends

all aboard the farty train to pooterville

prarie doggin's picture
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I noticed that the guys are smiling and the lady has a look of disgust on her face. Maybe she has to go.

Gryphus's picture
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Eventually it will be replaced by a red light.

.25 for a place to humpty dumpty.

The Big Wiper's picture
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Those people are way too involved-looking with that toilet, either way.

Pulling My Pants Down For Peace, Plop and Posterity!

Pulling My Pants Down For Peace, Plop and Posterity!

daphne's picture
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Holy Crap. No one has touched on the point that if someone is waiting for the door to close, they are a sitting duck for crime. Right before the door closes, someone could jump in and mug or rape you.

I wonder how many people will dart in as the door opens for the finished customer to rush in and get stuck in the 90 seconds spray and wash. I also wonder how I can get tickets to see that. LOL!

Good article Dave.
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.....hugging bunnies since 1969
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.....hugging bunnies since 1969
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When it Shits it Pours's picture
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Two things that scare me, the NIGHT CLOSURE light from 8 pm to 8 am, and the PUSH FOR EXTRA FLUSH buttons. Its as if they know the thing is gonna be too weak to handle it already!

While I do applaud the effort (Americas major cities are very scary places for those with bowel problems) to provide not just a toilet, but a freshly CLEAN toilet, would they not be better off with setting up existing businesses to handle this? One of the writers talks about how they'd rather go to starbucks and use the can. Couldnt the city just provide a tax incentive/tax return or something to allow them to install an additional 3-4 restroom stalls when building the facility? Setup an advertising program for getting the knowlege out and devise little signs for "public friendly restroom" with atleast 3 stalls per room? It would seem more economical than the hundreds of thousands im sure they paid for these systems.

RoboCrap13's picture
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Daphne, there are floor sensors to detect occupation. No one can get caught in the wash cycle.
Pity ... I know some people I'd push inside.

How many people would just assume the position and pee in those 30 seconds?
How many people would use the seat covers to wipe instead of fighting with the black button?

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You have the right to remain Silent but Deadly....

You have the right to remain Silent but Deadly....

The Shit Volcano's picture
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This sounds like another candidate for "Special Hells for Special People". You know, the people who invent things without any regard for those who have to use them? Like the inventor of those little label stickers that go on the top of CD jewel cases who is damned to an eternity of removing them. Or the guy who invented those stupid cloverleaf merges down in L.A who should be stuck forever merging onto a freeway at rush hour. The person who invented this toilet should be forced to use it in the afterlife.

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Beware the shitticane. Election, 2008.

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prarie doggin's picture
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The toilets will fail, but as someone who spent 30 years working in NYC, I can tell you that free access to business toilets would create more problems than they solve. Do you want your barista spending half his/her time cleaning bathrooms? I think the public toilets should be built in all city government buildings where they could be monitored by security guards or in police stations. Most of these bathrooms already exist and security is already in place. You should be relatively safe there as the occupants there are too busy with their own (white collar) crimes. There are plenty of unemployed squeegie guys that can be hired to keep them clean.

Oh, and Daphne, what gave you the silly idea that there was crime in NYC?

poopcrayon's picture
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"The person who invented this toilet should be forced to use it in the afterlife."

amen


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all aboard the farty train to pooterville..if you can't shit at my house, we aren't friends

all aboard the farty train to pooterville

prarie doggin's picture
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If that toilet is going to be in heaven, then I am going straight to hell. (what am I saying, I'm going there anyway)

Bilgepump's picture
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Thats where all the cool people will be anyway, PD

"One of the founding members of the Front Page Hyena Pack, and runs as its alpha male when the urge strikes him, which is often." Daphne (one perceptive chick)

prarie doggin's picture
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Yeah, and when I get down there I'll finally be hot.

poopcrayon's picture
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these things are true, Bilgepump.


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all aboard the farty train to pooterville..if you can't shit at my house, we aren't friends

all aboard the farty train to pooterville

shitwit's picture
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Honestly, I'd be one of those people who just bare it all and commence shitting before the door closes. If I'm within feet or even inches of a toilet, my floodgates just start opening - it's just a fact of life. There's NO WAY I'd wait out of politeness. Besides, I'm so claustrophobic I'd probably freak out once the door does finally shut. I'd be done shitting and wiping by the time the door closed. Ah. What I am I saying? I probably would have dropped my last quarter on the ground while desperately trying to place it in the slot, and watched it roll away into a storm drain, and curse the city out (yet again), and scurry off to defecate behind some dumpster! Actually, what would I be doing in NYC anyway? I don't live near enough to go for a day trip anymore (at least not as a mommy).

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Rock-n-roll! Poopy-poo!

Rock-n-roll! Poopy-poo!

Shits Happily In The Shadows's picture
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Dave, thanks for posting this story. As someone who regularly struts around Manhattan searching for a commode where a crackhead hasn't fallen asleep or where I don't have to eat at the establishment, I am excited about the prospect of sidewalk toilets.

But I agree with Daphne--someone could absolutely be attacked or leered at while the poor pooper is waiting for the door to close. And I'm not sure I'd want to sit in a wet, public restroom. The dry ones are gross enough. I guess until they work out the kinks, I'll be hauling ass to Grand Central, where the bathrooms in the restaurant area are semi-clean. Will the new toilets ever take Metrocards? ;)

P.S. Don't EVER use the bathroom at the 24-hour McDonald's in Times Square. Yes, the guard is nice, especially at 2 in the morning, when you're drunk and don't want a cheeseburger. Yes, it is convenient. But you'll pay in spades as you wade through toilet paper and urine on the floor, as you scream in terror at the horrendous toilet seat and flee for your life while fastening your pants. Or, maybe that was just my experience...
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Assaulting toilets since 1977!

Assaulting toilets since 1977!

prarie doggin's picture
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SH, that sounds like a story worth telling. How about it?

Shits Happily In The Shadows's picture
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Prarie Doggin, my search for meaningful, constructive employment has taken away from my posting time. Rest assured, though--I am working on more than one missive to submit when time allows to fully write and post! :)
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Assaulting toilets since 1977!

Assaulting toilets since 1977!

daphne's picture
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Even with all the problems these bathrooms have, I've decided that they are a better deal than these wonders...

Machester "Pee Pods"

Fart Poopie's BM newswire from September of 2006 blew my mind. I could see no way a woman could use one of these without either being able to pee standing or having to squash one's bum against the back of the urinal and hope you've aimed well. I haven't even touched on the fact that the back of the urinal walls were most likely covered with peepee already.

If it came to it, I'd have to use one of the steel monsters and be thankful.


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.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

Dave's picture
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Here's a little factoid I overlooked about this toilet: it uses 14 GALLONS OF WATER per use. That's absurd. I thought NYC was trying to be smart about resource conservation.

When all is said and done, a row of porta-potties (with frequent cleanings and service) would be cheaper, more resource efficient, and more effective in actually getting users.

Dave's picture
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Here's a thought: I think the toilet was designed not by the city but by Cemusa, the company NYC has outsourced its "street furniture" responsibilities to. This company doesn't make money from toilet users -- it makes money from selling ads on the outside of the toilet structure. Do you think maybe they designed these toilets NOT to be used?

Think about it: they create a toilet that discourages use and requires little maintenance. So all it does is just sit there and collect ad revenue. This would explain a lot of the design decisions, at any rate.

prarie doggin's picture
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I would be interested to know whose relatives own Cemusa. That name creeps me out, it sounds like a disease I hope I never get.

daphne's picture
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This makes me want to go guerilla on them and destroy the ads.


_______
.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

Hieronymous Bowels's picture
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Even with 14 gallons of water per use, it can't possibly scrub away all the sprayed vomit, diarrhea shits and man-goo that permeate a New York City toilet.

Logjam's picture
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I don't get all the criticism. Next time I'm in NYC, this will be my first stop. I'll use it even if I don't need to. It's like an amusement park ride.

Logjam

prarie doggin's picture
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You're right, maybe they should move these toilets to Coney Island.

Poonanza's picture
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I can't wait to see the competition that evolves from this. 'Let's see who can get done and wipe and dart out before the door closes!!'

RoboCrap13's picture
l 100+ points
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How about "Let's see if we can break the sensors and lock our mates in during the wash cycle!!!"
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You have the right to remain Silent but Deadly....

You have the right to remain Silent but Deadly....

Andy Sedgwick's picture
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In Japan, such features would have an immediate impact for its citizens. New Yorkers are quite different though.

bathrooms's picture
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Nice post.I think the toilet was designed not by the city but by Cemusa, the company NYC has outsourced its "street furniture" responsibilities to.

Anonymous Turd's picture
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These things have been installed all over every city in every country i've visited for the past 2 decades. Being as i'm originally from NY, I'm suprised to hear that they JUST got around to using these. All complaining aside, these things are a miracle when your lost and really need to crap, and don't know where else to go.

Anonymous's picture
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Ooooh, that begs a LOT of questions:

Are there toilets in heaven?

Do people in heaven even piss and crap?

If so, where does it go? Plop to earth? To the cafeterias in hell? To McDonalds? Does heaven even have a sewage treatment plant?

What kind of toilet paper/cats do they use? Do they have low-flow crappers or are those just found in hell and on earth?

Where Does Jesus Dook? Do his turds smell sweet? How many people do those loaves feed?