Emily Ambery | Layout Editor
Downtown Pittsburgh welcomed new public restrooms at the Gateway Center T-station on Sept. 16. The ‘Pittsburgh Potty’ is part of a six-month initiative to supplement a lack of public restrooms in the city.
Supported by the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the Downtown business and property owner community, Pittsburgh Potty is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and will host three restrooms, one being ADA accessible.
Team members from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) will maintain the bathrooms with regular servicing, cleaning and monitoring.
“It is our firm belief that everyone deserves access to secure, hygienic and dependable restrooms, and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is excited to have this opportunity to deliver this vital service to our community,” said Richard Hooper, vice president of marketing and communication at the Downtown Partnership.
A study by Point Park University faculty and students cited public restrooms as imperative to public health and provided the strategy for implementing the temporary system.
Lead Point Park faculty researcher on the report, Heather Starr Fiedler, said public restrooms address the universal need of access to hygienic care.
“Having clean and safe restrooms really should be a right, not a privilege,” Fiedler said. “It’s important for people who are unhoused because that is their only option for having a restroom to use.”
The pilot program will also provide another public restroom at Smithfield Sreet and Strawberry Way which will include two restroom stalls.
“We are really excited to see the plan moving forward and are thrilled that we were able to play some small part in proving the need and showing the data that this [city-funded restrooms] was worth doing,” Fielder said.
Pittsburgh Potties are equipped with running water, electricity, lighting and adjustable heating and cooling for varied weather conditions. The facilities also have a container to dispose of needles.
Each stall is single-occupancy and open to all genders.
“In the research we did about bathroom lines, the data shows that lines move much faster when anybody can go into any stall. It just makes more sense for them to be gender neutral,” Fielder said.
The initiative will also help the city collect data on how the restrooms help Downtown.
“They’ve opened these two portable bathrooms that are meant to be a pilot to see what the usage is like, the amount of people using it, the times of day, the types of people that are using it,” Fielder said. “That data will help them decide if they need to be open 24 hours a day, whether they need to be in a different location, do we need more than two.”
Downtown residents and visitors are already taking advantage of the facilities and Fielder hopes the pilot program will spark permanent change.
“So far, these temporary facilities have received an influx of consistently positive feedback from the public, with users noting their convenience, cleanliness and the attentiveness of staff,” Hooper said.
According to PDP, each team member is trained in first aid and administering the overdose-reversal drug Narcan.
“I’m here to keep it clean, and keep it moving,” PDP employee Mary Hefferan said. “I make sure it’s maintained well, nobody is staying in there too long, using it to wash up or doing drugs.”
Hefferan, who works at the Gateway Center from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, greeted passersby with a smile. She said the potties will have a positive impact on all the city’s residents.
“I think it will not only help the community but most especially help the homeless, they’re the ones that need these facilities the most,” Hefferan said. “I have a man who comes down every day to say good morning and use the facility and it’s really nice to see.”