City of Austin aims to address Waller Creek bacteria with public restrooms

The Austin Health Department and Public Works Department are getting ready to launch a pilot program to test out 24-hour public bathrooms in high pedestrian traffic areas.

“There is a need for public restrooms because we have identified some human waste in the surrounding area that we hope we can address through the use of public restrooms,” said David Magana with the City of Austin Public Works Department. 

“There's close to zero if you're not willing to be a customer somewhere, if you’re not staying at a hotel, if you’re not buying a drink at a bar, you can't use any of those bathrooms,” said Win Bent with the Central Presbyterian Church.

Many people who live or work downtown said the move is extremely necessary, especially those who work where a large number of transient people gather.

“I am 100 percent in favor of it, 500 percent in favor of it. It's been a big problem in downtown Austin in general, and the alley that's behind our church is a well-known public toilet as it exists today,” Bent said. 

The Watershed Protection Department reports fecal bacteria levels are chronically high in Waller Creek, which runs right through downtown Austin.

“It's making its way to the creeks, there is no doubt, and we're trying to get that captured by providing these public facilities,” said Magana. 

The City hopes by placing 24-hour restrooms in the area they can cut down on the threat of bacteria in the creek, but it comes at a price. Each of the Portland Loos will cost between $90,000-150,000 and that doesn't include maintenance or the bathroom attendant meant to keep out illegal activity.
“There’s going to be a crime element of some sort. I'm willing to put up with that to enjoy the benefit of having a toilet, but it's definitely, it's going to need the police monitoring, it's going to need the multiple times a day spraying it down, hosing it down, whatever, it's going to have its own problems, but it's definitely going to be a plus to have,” Bent said. 

The bathrooms will be placed in each of these five locations for about a month at a time to test whether it is a good idea to permanently install them there:

  • East 6th and I-35
  • East 6th and Brazos
  • East 7th and Neches
  • East 6th and Trinity
  • West 5th and Colorado.

“They were chosen because we recognized they needed to be in a high pedestrian traffic area, as well as a well-lit area, as well as near an APD camera,” Magana said.

If all goes according to plan, the pilot program will last about six months and the bathrooms would be installed permanently after City Council reviews the findings.

Those who couldn't make the public meetings are able to text “restroom” to 512-643-5627 to share their opinion on the matter.

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