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How to Solve the Great Urban Restroom Shortage

Civic-minded businesses should open their hearts and their lavatories to the public.

A sight for sore eyes.

A sight for sore eyes.

Photographer: Graham Barclay/Bloomberg

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find an open public restroom. Many public lavatories across major US cities remain closed today. In New York City, a recent investigation found that the city’s parks offer a scant 16 comfort stations per 100,000 residents.

Most of us have experienced the challenge of finding a public restroom, but for many, restroom access isn’t just a matter of convenience — it’s a serious medical issue. As the respective CEOs of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the Celiac Disease Foundation, we hear far too many stories from patients with digestive disorders detailing the physical pain and extreme anxiety — not to mention traumatic accidents — they’ve experienced when restrooms aren’t readily available. Diseases and challenges like these, which can force patients to stay home in the absence of restroom options, are far more common than you might think.