How to make public restrooms better and safer

Women need more stalls than men
After big events or during “rush” hours like lunch-time, the line for the women's restroom is usually longer than for the men’s.

One summer, I was at the WinterGarden Theater in the Times Square Theater District. The show was the hilarious Beetlejuice. I routinely go to the bathroom right before the curtain goes up and then at intermission. I walked to the Men's Room. Blocking the door was an usher explaining that this rest room was for women only.. She directed us to the closest Men's room. My first thought was - that's brilliant. They just increased the number of stalls available to women. At theaters, arenas, movie theaters, the line to the women's room is often backed up into the hallway. and moving slower than the men's line. Most people had already acknowledged the gender discrepancy. It was about time for venues to solve the problem of serving the women in time to make it back to their seats before Act II. A shame that it took so long for architects to embrace a better way to accommodate female users in public spaces, theaters, arenas, concert venues.

Researchers at Ghent University determined two factors that make women’s restroom lines longer:
While the physical space for both sexes is generally about the same, men’s rooms have stalls and urinals while women’s rooms just have restroom stalls. Urinals take up less space than stalls. This means that the women’s restroom has about 30% fewer toilets than a comparably sized men's room.
The amount of time that women spend in the restroom. Women generally have more clothes to remove, spend more time in front of the mirror, and chat more with fellow restroom goers.

Example below left: (for illustration, not ADA compliant): Women have 3 stalls, men have 4. Right: more appropriate number of stalls


Location of restrooms in hallway

When the doors to restrooms are in a hallway, the placement of the gender rooms can encourage or discourage harassment. The Ladies' door should be closest to the open end of the hallway. This allows an easier exit escape for women. If the door is at the closed end of the hallway, it allows someone to easily block their exit.


A better way to respect the desperate customer

I was on my way to the restroom at some C-store on I-70 between Illinois and West Virginia. There was this great Restrooms sign over the hallway - it was easily visible from the front door. Nice job! I headed down the hall, but didn't know where the Men's room was until almost in front of the doors. So much clearer and easier to navigate if there had been signs posted on that back wall. So simple and so effective.

Great way to show stall vacancies


Many people do not like to touch the door handle when exiting a restroom - that is where people have put their germy hands. Especially since Covid changed our need for sanitizing. Some people use a paper towel to grab the handle so they won't have to touch it. Those people often throw that towel on the floor by the door. Or, as in the photo below, in a trash can if that can has been placed outside the restroom.

Above right: Some businesses mount a sanitizer dispenser outside the restroom so people can clean their hands after exiting. The options below allow the user to open the door with their arm or with their foot:

Some design objectives:
• Easy to clean (holes or gaps will collect gunk).
• Easy to install on existing doors of varied materials.
• Durable for many uses.
All of these options are good design - each solves a problem with clarity and efficiency.
Below: Decals showing how to operate it are mounted near the trash can - so the user knows they do not need to keep the paper towel to grasp the door handle - they can just throw it away.



Here is a new way to address bathroom sanitation and waste. This sink includes phases of washing, rinsing, and drying (from right to left). A public restroom would likely require more sinks since the time spent at the basin would increase. But, one could take care of all functions at one location, rather than standing at the sink and then moving to the towel dispenser and the trash can. The freestanding sink is better than sinks mounted in a countertop. Those counters are almost always wet and messy.

Lesson: Horizontal surfaces collect crap and get messy.
Tip: Avoid horizontal surfaces in public spaces, except where absolutely necessary.
Option: Pedestal sinks with shelves and hooks within reach and sight for personal belongings. A larger sink basin would also better contain spray and splash.


The Minor Battle Between the Sexes

Should the toilet seat be left up or down? Of course, it's not really about a seat, it's about control. The toilet seat is one area where some women can feel in control over their mates, and, however unreasonable, insist on having their way. A guy walks in the bathroom and raises or lowers the seat as needed, without saying a word about it or making it an issue.
Two ways to solve the seat up or down conflict:
• If you don't like the person you share the bath with, are annoyed by something they do, or want to feel in control over them, then bitch at them for not leaving the seat just the way you prefer it.
• If you love someone, care about them, and feel good about yourself, then just put the seat up or down as you prefer and go about your business.
A better solution is so simple: Install urinals in the home. A urinal allows a man to pee standing up and both genders use the toilet for sitting - the lid stays down.
I installed urinals in the home office in 2000 and in the house in 2004.

Far right: More public bathrooms ought to have both a toilet and a urinal - solving the messy seat up or down issue.

Better urinal placement

Proper piss etiquette was probably established when two cavemen went to the same tree to pee. The etiquette is that the two men are to stand as far away from each other as is plumbingly possible. That means if there are 3 urinals, its absolutely mandatory that two men use the outer two urinals. But, too many architects put the boy's size on the outside, forcing the second man to decide whether to stand at the Man urinal next to the first man (inappropriate) or pee into the boy's urinal and risk wetting the wall (unsanitary). A simple solution is shown in the images below - install the boy version in the middle, in an alternating pattern: M b M b M. The boy may feel self-conscious but how often have you seen a kid standing at the urinal? Please tell all the architects you know to design public restrooms in this format starting tomorrow morning (or by the weekend, at the latest). Men everywhere will thank you.


Above left: Almost, but this M M b M b pattern still pits two Men urinals next to each other. Better pattern: M b M b M
Above right: Now this is just rude and inconsiderate. The architect here designed a generous stall area to move the two men farther apart (good etiquette) but had one urinal installed too close to the other one (bad etiquette). There is even wasted space between the stall and the sink counter. Both urinals could have had generous standing area.
Another way to allow men to be more comfortable and provide some privacy is to build walls between each urinal, like at Bucee's:


A great idea for public or home bathrooms without urinals

This protruding handle allows the user to raise the seat with their foot and not have to touch the seat with the hand. Saw this in the restroom at IKEA.

The absolute worst color for a urinal screen

Below left: This is better. Below right: Which urinal would you avoid?


This may be the most famous urinal in history

This scandalous work was a porcelain urinal, which was signed R. Mutt and titled Fountain.
Submitted for the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, New York City, in 1917 by Marcel Duchamp, Fountain was rejected by the committee, even though the rules stated that all works would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. The piece was later displayed and photographed at Alfred Stieglitz's studio, but the original has been lost. The work is regarded by some art historians as a major landmark in 20th-century art. Replicas commissioned by Duchamp in the 1960s are now on display in a number of different museums, like in MoMA, above right.



This bathroom is in the New Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. So beautiful that the bathroom is even named after the donors. I hope that's the reason - maybe this is their private restroom and I shouldn't have been in there.



This just makes so much sense - a sink built on top of a urinal. One uses the urinal, then washes their hands - the washwater rinses the urinal, saving water. It makes even more sense in multiple units in men's rooms, saving both space and water.
From the designer: We don't have to use water twice after using the urinal. Moreover, it reduces the establishment's expenses by optimizing the materials and floor space. The sink base is made of glass - to provide a clear view for users. It also promotes hand washing since people need to wash their hands to flush the urinal.
The 'yucky' factor is tempered with the current system of yucky germs in the sink.
(Better: the back of the urinal should not be flat as that causes direct back-splash on to the user's pants.)