Shared Restrooms?

Shared Restrooms?

Herman: Looking for the future of public bathrooms?

Remember the Alamo

 OPINION

By Ken Herman – American-Statesman Staff

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, August 05, 2017


I have seen the future and it’s in the present in the bathroom at the Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller.

In an immodest proposal I floated in a recent column, I suggested it’s time to end separate but equal in bathrooms. Why, I wondered, do we have men’s and women’s bathrooms? Can’t we have one big room with individual, private stalls and common-area sinks, etc.?

This would end the debate over who goes to which bathroom. And it would end the unfairness caused by the fact that people who don’t identify as male or female now have no multiple-occupant bathroom to use.

Alamo Drafthouse is ahead of the curve on this. Previously unbeknownst to me (but beknownst to several readers who beknownsted it to me) Alamo Drafthouse, at its Mueller theater that opened in March, has precisely what I’m talking about. Readers also told me there are other gender-neutral, multiple-occupancy bathrooms around town.

I need to get out more often.

Alamo Drafthouse CEO and co-founder Tim League got some attention last year when he sought input on the gender-neutral bathroom concept, which became reality. I recently checked it out and found one big, clean room labeled “Restrooms.” It has fully-enclosed stalls with toilets and a separate room with urinals. There also are ADA/family rooms. The sinks are in a common area. Perfect.

League says it’s working well: “No complaints at all.”

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Richard Weiss, the Austin architect who designed the bathroom, told me his firm gets about five inquiries a week from architects around the country seeking help designing gender neutral bathrooms. That includes a recent inquiry from the city architect for Jersey City, N.J., who had questions about converting City Hall bathrooms there to what Weiss calls “GeNu.”

Weiss has a unique insight into bathrooms: “In addition to being Alamo’s architect, I am in a ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ tribute band, so I am familiar with having to use the men’s room in a dress and heels.”

Alamo Drafthouse patron Curtis Polk is a fan of the bathroom at the new Alamo Drafthouse, though he said it took some getting used to. “You do you your business and then you come out — and standing next to a woman kind of threw me off when I was washing my hands and looking into the mirror next to a woman.”

During my visit, I found it a little unsettling — but for no reason other than it’s just not what I’m used to — when I heard what sounded like a mom and a young girl in the room while I was in the individual stall. But really, what’s the problem with that?

And Polk said his wife found a healthy upside to bathroom unity. “It makes guys wash their hands because when you step out women are right there and it makes men feel more guilty” if they don’t wash, he said. “Seems like more men are washing their hands.”

At the end of my call for an end to separate but equal bathrooms, I invited readers to discuss this. Some discussed. Some are disgusted.

Larry Knepper is OK with the concept: “However, if we ever go that way, do NOT remove the urinals! Once women use our stalls, there will be something we guys have never had to experience in the past – LINES! I don’t want to wait in line for a stall just to get rid of the cup of office I had an hour ago.”

Barbara Garland said she recently used a gender-shared bathroom in Sweden: “While it was odd for us Americans, it wasn’t particularly uncomfortable. And the men had to endure the long lines, just like women have had to do forever. Seems like a win/win to me.”

But Jerri Matthews didn’t like her experience in a gender-shared bathroom at a restaurant in France where she discovered that some patrons, “men, I assumed, were lacking good aim. The floor was swimming in wetness.

“Having to slough through that in sandals wasn’t pleasant,” Matthews told me.

Sorry if you’re reading this at a meal.

Norma Kinney also had an overseas experience to share: “There are public loos on the streets of Europe. The feet and head (if occupant is standing) are visible. One gentleman doffed his hat to me as I was passing. Rather unusual, I admit, but not insulting to me.”

Gentlemanly indeed, but I’d guess hat doffing could negatively impact accuracy.

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Ronald Sawey congratulated me “for not taking the obvious cheap laugh of asking about that pesky toilet seat and keeping it up or down.”

Me? Cheap laughs?

And Sawey had an idea: “Perhaps the seat could come spring loaded to keep it up unless one sits on it?”

Maybe, but I foresee potentially painful injuries.

Joe Kowalczyk is against my idea.

“Oh, Ken, NO! We need to keep separate and unequal as it is today. Just think how we men would be giving up on a quick pit stop,” Kowalczyk wrote, predicting longer intermissions at the opera and a need for a fourth-inning stretch at the ballpark.

Bonnie Carothers said, “I don’t want to share public bathrooms with strange men — private stalls or not.”

OK, how about two bathrooms, one marked “Strange Men” and one marked ‘Everybody Else?’”

In pushing for the bathroom bill now before the state Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers said a law limiting transgender-friendly policies is needed to protect girls and women. Senate sponsor Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, pitched it as an “opportunity to shut down predators and voyeurs.”

Reader Julia Spann, self-identifying as “a feminist and advocate for equality,” based her opposition to shared bathrooms on experience.

“All my husbands and sons (total of eight so far) have had one thing in common — the male propensity for belching, flatulence and expectoration. We shan’t discuss the universal aim problem. … It is best for all that they have their own facility,” she wrote, adding that she and her husband now have “his and her bathrooms” at home.

Hmm, I was unaware that some of those bodily functions are gender specific.

Let’s end with something on which everybody can agree. It’s from reader Louise Brown, an extraordinarily insightful human being.

“Thank you,” she said of my call for one bathroom for all. “Intelligence is in short supply these days and we should all celebrate displays of brilliance such as yours!”

Travel Center Restrooms

Travel Center Restrooms

JaniWrap is at home in clean and attractive restrooms ~

PHOTO: Stressed parents on a family road trip. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

Anyone who has ever traveled with children, let alone driven long stretches with little ones, knows that a family road trip is just about the least relaxing thing a parent can do.

Cue the “Are we there yet???” memes.

It’s true that plopping children into the backseat and driving for hours on a lonely highway is not the first thing that comes to mind when considering a relaxing family getaway. Sometimes, however, it can’t be avoided.

If families want to visit some of the more stunning sights and national parks in this country, it often comes at the price of a long car ride.

According to an IPSOS research study, while more than 66 percent of Americans are planning a summer road trip—with a significant number of those families traveling over the Fourth of July weekend—a majority (57 percent) of parents believe it will be stressful.

As one of the largest operators of roadside travel centers in North America, Pilot Flying J commissioned a survey of 1,000 parents who are planning a family road trip and have children under the age of 18.

The study found that there are some key stressors for families on the road: Finding fresh food and access to clean restrooms were some of the top concerns for parents while “Where to stop” is one of the top reasons families argue on a road trip.

Millennial parents are the most concerned about finding rest stops, truck stops, gas stations and restaurants that offer suitable food options. Sixty-five percent said food options stressed them out the most.

Fifty-one percent of Gen-X parents said that food was of great concern as did 42 percent of boomer parents.

Travel centers that invest in serving fresh food could reap significant rewards. The survey found that 88 percent of parents (nine out of 10) said that they would be more likely to stop at these locations.

READ MORE: 8 Rules for an Epic Road Trip

Almost all parents said that clean bathrooms were an important part of their decision when deciding where to stop, and 74 percent seek out a particular brand of travel center because of its reputation for clean bathrooms.

Knowing that 85 percent of parents say that they would be surprised to find a stop that has both fresh food options and clean bathrooms, Pilot Flying J has embarked on creating a solution for families.

“Listening to our guests, and understanding their needs is a priority for us at Pilot Flying J,” said Whitney Haslam Johnson, chief experience officer for Pilot Flying J.

“If we can provide what families want to take some of the stress away, then hopefully it makes their experience with us enjoyable. As a mom of three boys myself, I understand how important that can be.”

READ MORE: Expert Advice for Traveling With Children 

New and renewed amenities are part of Pilot Flying J’s ongoing efforts to enhance its network of travel centers. Recently, the company invested $100 million into renovations, upgrading travel centers with eco-friendly hand dryers, Italian tile accents, family changing tables and more.

They’ve also improved lighting and added the PJ Fresh Marketplace, a fast-casual dining experience that provides guests with high-quality, on-the-go food options that include salads and fruit bowls. Pilot Flying J has also partnered with celebrity chef Tim Love who is working on creating more fresh and unique menu items.

What’s the ultimate way to making road trips for families less stressful? Free stuff.

Pilot Flying J is offering a special, the “road trip snack pack” promotion, which showcases its new, healthful options. From June 19 to Aug. 31, guests can receive a free 20-ounce bottle of Aquafina water when purchasing a 2.25-ounce bag of Smartfood Popcorn with the online coupon downloaded here.

Meet The Woman Who Won The Best Restroom Cleaner Award

Meet The Woman Who Won The Best Restroom Cleaner Award

The only way to keep public toilets clean is to treat them the way you would at home.

For V. Komathy, 45, the cleaner responsible for Ipoh City Council’s award-winning toilets, it all boils down to attitude.

“Would you leave your toilet at home filthy?” she asked.

The once-dilapidated facility at the council’s Town Service Section in Buntong received a facelift after a visit by Mayor Datuk Zamri Man last year.

The 25-year-old toilet won gold in the 1Malaysia Clean Toilets Awards, which was organised by the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry last year.

Here is Komathy’s story:

“I was born and raised in Ipoh. I had wanted to further my studies. However, I fell in love with my husband in secondary school and decided to get married instead. I was a homemaker up until 15 years ago, when I decided to join the workforce.

“My husband is a garbage truck driver, so I decided to join as a general worker.

“My mother did not agree, but I chose to work with the council anyway. My four children are supportive of my work. At home, I am a ‘sporting’ mother, but I teach them to appreciate cleanliness and practise it at home.

“Previously, I was assigned to clean and sweep public areas, like road and drains. When I was informed that I would be in charge of the newly renovated toilets last year, I was nervous, but took up the challenge anyway. My supervisors were very supportive.

“One of the most annoying habits of users is to leave the toilets unflushed.

“There is no way around it. Would you leave your toilet at home filthy? The same applies to public toilets. If everyone played their part, we can maintain cleanliness.

“When I learnt that we won the award, I was happy to have made my family proud. I am happy that the Ipoh City Council won it. Some of my friends had even asked about the win. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I went for the award-giving ceremony in Kuala Lumpur and received the award from the minister (Tan Sri Noh Omar).

“I can say that our hard work had paid off. My children and colleagues are happy for me.

“Now, the challenge is for us to maintain this and make sure that our toilets stay clean. It is quite hard, as the restrooms are frequently used by the Town Service Section staff (some 700 council staff, including truck drivers and workers in charge of garbage collection). They would return from their duties with wet boots. So, I have to make sure that I wash the floor twice daily.

“Do your best in whatever profession you choose. I am proud of my job. There is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with sweeping roads as it is a noble job. Do not ever think that your work is not good enough, or others have a better job than you. As long you as you give your best… that is all that matters.

“As for me, I am making a decent living, and that is all that matters.”

Award the result of teamwork between management and staff

The fragrant smell of pandan leaves gives an air of freshness as one enters the restrooms at the Ipoh City Council’s Town Service Section in Buntong.

Despite the space constraint, the council did a good job in redesigning the 25-year-old toilets, completing its facelift in time for the 1Malaysia Clean Toilets Awards (ATB1M).

The toilets won the Gold Award in the Government Office Category last year.

The restrooms are equipped with showers and squat toilets. The combined use of natural and mechanical ventilation methods, inspired by rest and relax areas along PLUS highways, minimises bad odours.

The win is a result of effective teamwork between the city council’s management and staff, including V. Komathy, who was assigned to monitor and clean the toilets frequented by Town Service Section staff.

Public Health Urban Services Department assistant director S. Manisegaran said while Ipoh had a list of award-winning public toilets, it was the first time the council had submitted an entry for its own toilet.

ATB1M was established by the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry in 2010 to rate and reward clean public toilets.

It wants all public toilets to be rated three-stars (satisfactory) and above by 2020.

The toilets are evaluated based on the environment (lighting, water supply, ventilation and sewage treatment), structure and maintenance (floor, ceiling, sinks, wash basins and toilet bowls) and sanitary facilities (soap dispensers and tissue papers).

Other criteria are toilet
signages, toilet cleaning activities (cleaning schedule, storage and tidiness) and additional facilities (mirrors, hangers, decoration, diaper changing rooms and toilets for the disabled).

Toilets in Malaysia are given either five stars (very clean), four (clean), three (satisfactory), two (average), one (less clean) or zero (dirty).

Are You a Clean or Dirty Restroom User?

Are You a Clean or Dirty Restroom User?

By Wally Habben, Round Lake

This is how I propose we solve the “Who gets to use which bathroom?” problem:

Dirty Bathroom Users: They go on the floor, and they certainly don’t wash their hands well, if an attempt is made at all. They touch everything before leaving (including the only handle available to open the exit door).

Clean Bathroom Users: Everything goes inside the porcelain. They always use the paper cover on the seat (no matter how difficult it is to place correctly). They flush the toilet with their shoe. They put the toilet seat down.  They wish to wash their hands with soap and hot water. Finally, they use a paper towel to touch the door handle as they leave.

With two young boys (one potty-trained & one in training) and a conscious effort to drink more than one gallon of water/day myself, I frequent public restrooms. Until my sons get full control, they will sit down to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, this means their soft, innocent little hands touch a lot of the seat and adjacent wall.  Disgusting!  Even worse, after completing their business, they typically struggle to reach the sinks, and I must either set them up on the dirty counter or prop them between myself and the edge of the counter to wash their hands. And wash their hands with what? Water that is usually cold to lukewarm at best, and does nothing

to rid the bacteria.

Now, even if by God’s grace we managed to get all six of our hands satisfactorily washed clean and dried, how do we open a door that swings in and still keep all our hands clean? Where on that door can I grab? Is there a

handle on that door that doesn’t contain a previous dirty bathroom user’s residue?

I challenge business owners and managers (who don’t keep a restroom attendant posted in each bathroom for 100 percent of business hours) to provide cleaning/antibacterial products for users of their facilities to clean up

after themselves (or for clean-conscious users to attempt to clean a spot before use). Keep in mind, some of the dollars you get to count before whistling on the way to the bank will come from hands that utilized your restroom facilities.

DIRTY bathroom users or CLEAN bathroom users — that’s what the door labels will say. Which door is it that you are qualified to enter?

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