In the middle of Times Square in July 2021, I sipped the last of my iced coffee and realized I had to go. After being turned away from several businesses, I burst into a McDonald’s and was told the bathroom was for customers only. I paid $3 for a bottle of water and ran up a flight of stairs, only to find the door unlocked. I could have just gone in and used the toilet without having to buy that overpriced water.
I took a video of the McDonald’s and posted it on TikTok under the handle @got2gonyc. I hoped sharing the bathroom location would offer relief to at least one other person. By the next day, my comment section was full of locations of other publicly available bathrooms throughout New York City, in hotels, restaurants and stores. This isn’t surprising. New York City, for decades, has left the provision of bathrooms primarily to private establishments.
The struggle to find an accessible bathroom is a public health issue — one that is a direct product of decades of neglect and failed infrastructure projects. To make sure everyone has a place to go, New York City needs to treat public bathroom access as an infrastructure problem deserving of an immediate, robust response.
New York City has 8.5 million residents but has fewer than 1,200 public restrooms. And that’s not even counting the tourists. You do the math. Where are New Yorkers supposed to go when they have to go?