Downtown Minneapolis Needs Public Bathrooms
Downtown Minneapolis has some challenges right now. One easy way we could make it better is to add a few public bathrooms. You don't hear about it too often locally in comparison to the ongoing and endless skyway/no skyway debate, but I feel like I get asked about it while walking around downtown, and occasionally I've had to scramble to figure things out myself.
Other than the public bathrooms at the Minneapolis Central Library, which are open during regular business hours, and a few spots in government buildings on the other side of downtown, your options aren't great. They get worse at night and on the weekends. There are a handful of private bathrooms you can usually use easily enough during regular business hours, including on the ground floor of the Target on Nicollet Mall, and a lot of the restaurants if you know where you're going and look like it.
The ones in private establishments usually require a bit of expert knowledge, so I did a little bit of crowdsourcing and asked grizzled locals what they know about:
In an effort to find that last one, which is reasonably public (it doesn't say customers only or anything, and it's on the ground floor of a building in a mall-like space not connected to any specific establishment) I moseyed on over to see where it was. It's not on their own map of the space:
And when you're in the atrium, it's not really obvious where it is. For example...
See it? No...
So anyway yes, bathrooms are hard to find downtown.
The Downtown Council has identified this as an issue, and did a lil' pop up project in 2015 where they plopped down some well-maintained porta potties with handwashing stations at Nicollet & 12th Street.
This is a bit far from the main part of downtown, but is a well-trafficked area near Peavey Plaza where public urination has been an issue. At the risk of being a Woke Wally, it does seem wrong to penalize people (particularly the homeless) for public urination when that is...the only option.
And there really should be more options here! Other major American cities don't necessarily operate their own public bathrooms, but they tend to have publicly-accessible bathrooms in one or a combination of:
- Public amenities (museums, libraries, and other services)
- Public transit stations (like, actual subway stations)
- Private establishments (like our own downtown Target) that are high-traffic enough to not care about passersby using their facilities and are also open most of the time
And they've got those things at a high enough density to pull off incidental widespread coverage of public(ish) bathrooms. What can we do until we get to that kind of city?
Without even being paid a five figure consulting fee, local bald father Alex Cecchini recently threw out an idea for plopping a public restroom and another couple amenities at Hennepin & 5th Street, where a huge downtown parking lot has managed to resist 15 years of being next to a major train station.
A few other places come to mind for something like what Cecchini suggested above:
- The now vacant Walgreen's space on Nicollet Mall is begging to be torn down by a merciful new owner
- On the south end of Hennepin, that big patch of sidewalk on the north corner of Hennepin & 10th Street is owned by the City
- Somewhere on either Government Plaza or the other green space on the other side of the Hennepin County Government Center
In addition to providing the locations, you'll want extensive operating hours--maybe not quite 24/7, but you really need to go past bar close at least on weekends to deal with public urination. So maybe something like what the METRO system observes, about 4 AM in the morning to 3 AM the next morning.
Notably, the Minneapolis Park Board built and maintains many public bathrooms in our parks, including major, high traffic ones like Lake Calhoun. So I think that this is probably possible! They could be operated one agency or by a few different people--the Downtown Council, the Downtown Improvement District, maybe the Hennepin Theatre Trust can take one, etc etc etc.
And, I mean, if you didn't want to spend the money on new facilities, you could always organize something among the major downtown property owners to work out a unified system of signage and operating hours. Most of the big skyscrapers have security in their lobbies just about 24 hours anyway, all you have to do is keep the door open and throw up some signs.
Bathrooms are a pretty basic thing...like extremely basic; I checked Maslow's hierarchy of needs and "bathroom" isn't on there but I mean it definitely could be. Visitors to our downtown, unfamiliar with the skyways, are already treated to a surreal post-apocalyptic scene depending on what time of day they arrive. We could at least give them somewhere to take a leak.