Aug 17, 2022 - News

Navigating Boston's public bathrooms

The bathrooms appear to the right of the Boston Long Wharf Marriott hotel entrance.
Long Wharf has waterfront views, green space and (most importantly) public bathrooms. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

When nature calls, Boston runners, tourists and commuters are often hard-pressed to find a public bathroom.

The big picture: They became harder to access in the past two years, due to pandemic-related closures — as my friend Max Grinnell learned when he did a survey last year.

  • But even the restrooms that never went away aren't always well-known. So I sought out the best (or at least the most accessible) ones.

Why it matters: "If you're a delivery driver or you're a parent with a toddler or just a normal person who needs to go to the bathroom, there isn't an easy way to find out where one is," says Amith Saligrama, a rising junior at Commonwealth School who developed his own map of public bathrooms in the Boston area.

Flashback: Boston installed one of the nation's first public toilets in 1860 because working-class men were urinating on the streets, causing public health concerns.

  • While public bathrooms have become increasingly common, they have always prioritized people based on sex, gender, race and class, notes Taunya Banks, a retired University of Maryland professor who has studied bathroom access.

These same disparities emerge when people rely on privately owned bathrooms in public-facing spaces, such as when two Black men were arrested after trying to use a Philadelphia Starbucks bathroom in 2018.

  • "With the increased privatization of toilets in public spaces, cities need to look more closely to see there's some equality in terms of access," Banks tells Axios.

How to find bathrooms: Saligrama's site lists public bathrooms across Greater Boston.

  • Boston also has its own official public bathrooms page.
  • Cambridge and Brookline do not appear to have public bathrooms listed on their website. (Neither city responded to emails and calls seeking comment.)
  • Somerville's website links to Saligrama's site.

Pro tips:

  • Fire stations have public bathrooms in Boston, and they're available 24/7.
  • Bathrooms in some hotels, restaurants and office spaces are listed as public during the day in Boston, including the Boston Marriott Long Wharf, Chart House and Independence Wharf.
  • You can also use the bathroom at the New England Aquarium and the Boston Children's Museum without having to buy tickets.
  • The MBTA bathrooms tend to be locked or downright disgusting, with some exceptions at North Station, South Station and Back Bay Station (when the Orange Line is running).

Plus: There are bathrooms by the public pools, as well as the shipping-container-turned-bathroom in Boston Common.

  • Yes, but: They tend to close outside of summer.

The bottom line: Boston has public bathrooms; you just need to know where to look.

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