Feb 29, 2024 - News

Scoop: Chicago still stalled on free public toilet pilot

Illustration of a public restroom lock, but "occupied" is replaced with "new."

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A Chicago alderperson recently announced that a free public restroom pilot is ready to launch, but the city says there's no deal.

Why it matters: City officials and advocates have been raising the alarm about the lack of access to free public restrooms for years, especially after a 2021 Tribune investigation found some parts of the city having few options or none entirely.

Driving the news: Ald. Daniel La Spata, who represents parts of the Northwest Side including Logan Square, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park, announced late last month that the city is working with French company JCDecaux to set up four high-quality public restrooms in Chicago.

  • La Spata's spokesperson declined to offer more details, telling Axios the office is hopeful they'll know more about the pilot soon.locations would be decided "in the very near term."
  • La Spata's spokesperson declined to offer more details, telling Axios the office is hopeful they'll know more about the pilot soon.

Reality check: The city has not begun the process of procuring the goods and services for a public restroom project, and "there is no agreement currently in place regarding public restrooms," a spokesperson tells Axios.

Zoom in:
JCDecaux, the sole owner of the city's digital billboards, has been doing business with Chicago for decades. The company also provides bus ads and other "street furniture."

  • JCDecaux did not respond to Axios' multiple requests about the restrooms.

Meanwhile, Mayor Brandon Johnson's office says it's working to "assess the feasibility of potential sites for the public bathroom pilot program," a spokesperson tells Axios.

Catch up quick: La Spata and Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, whose ward includes Albany Park and Avondale, have been pushing to establish a pilot program for publicly available bathrooms since 2021.

Context: A state law requires businesses to make restrooms available to people with Crohn's disease, colitis and other bowel disorders.

  • The Chicago Park District has roughly 150 park fieldhouses in addition to the Garfield and Lincoln Park Conservatories that have accessible restrooms, according to a Parks spokesperson.
  • "In addition, all lakefront beach house restrooms and some neighborhood park comfort stations are accessible. There are 20 parks that are currently under construction for restroom upgrades," the spokesperson said in a statement.

What's next: Neither the city nor LaSpata could provide a timeline for the project, but the alder says the city is "moving with the urgency" to install the bathrooms before the Democratic National Convention comes to town in August.

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