Edmonton is opening the door to a new temporary public washroom realm, as it prepares to install trailer-style toilets this spring, instead of placing porta-potties in key downtown locations like it did last summer.
The city released an update on its washroom strategy Thursday, which will be discussed at council’s community and public services committee Jan. 17.
Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, is grateful for the upgrade from the porta-potties.
“We need these washrooms to be safe and appealing and well-maintained for everyone,” McBryan said Thursday. “I’m hoping that members of the public, regardless of who they are, are going to be willing and comfortable to use them.”
McByran said that last year, some patrons were aggressive toward attendants and using drugs in the porta-potties, which were set up while other places like libraries and restaurants were closed to the public.
She was hoping for at least one permanent washroom downtown in 2022, noting that the trailers are not ideal.
“It’s really hard to maintain visibility and safety when you’ve got this opaque, very private environment that we’re tasking these washroom attendants to kind of keep an eye on.”
The city’s long-term plan to establish permanent public washrooms in high-traffic areas and administration plans to present the estimated costs to do that later this year, in preparation for the 2023-2026 budget cycle.
But this year, the city has earmarked $2.26 million to install the trailers, although it’s not clear how many trailers that will get.
In the operating budget passed in December, council also approved $3.6 million to support initiatives related to providing safe, clean and well-managed washroom facilities.
Those include attendants at three locations for another year: Churchill Square, Whyte Avenue and Borden Park.
The funding allows the city to hire a dedicated public washroom coordinator in 2022, to liaise with local businesses on the challenges they face and lead the washroom strategy and its goals.
Coun. Anne Stevenson said she believes it’s a step in the right direction.
“The washroom strategy is really transitioning from temporary usage to this permanent facility,” Stevenson said in an interview Thursday.
“I think that coordinator position is going to be very busy. It’s a lot of different moving parts, both sort of meeting the immediate needs and then setting us up for the future as well.”
Last year, the city equipped several existing washrooms with attendants who collected data on visits to washrooms at Churchill Square, Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, Borden Park and Queen Elizabeth Park in addition to the Whyte Avenue/Old Strathcona facility.
From 2020 to 2021, it shows visits to the Whyte Avenue location nearly doubled over two years and visits to Churchill Square more than tripled.
“It’s amazing to me how the use of the washrooms has increased so significantly over the past year,” Stevenson said. “I think that all points to this being a real need and us having the resources and staffing and strategy in place to make it happen.”
Jay Ball, executive director of the Alberta Avenue Business Improvement Area, said he supports the city’s move toward the temporary solutions.
“Enhanced public washrooms will be a very welcome change for the vulnerable sector in our area,” Ball said in an email to Canada.
“Updated, modernized and upgraded units are a better overall fit for the avenue,” he added, noting that they’ll work with the city on the need and feasibility for permanent longer term solutions.
McBryan noted that permanent washrooms aren’t just for vulnerable populations, they’re for everyone.
“These washrooms are essential for anyone who is out and about and needs to use the washroom,” she said.
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