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With Public Toilet Pilot Project, City Brings TP And Privacy To Sixth And I-35

Martin do Nascimento
Attendant Xaveon Johnson sits outside a temporary free public restroom downtown on Thursday.

A free public restroom has been installed downtown near I-35 and Sixth Street to help tourists, runners, bikers, homeless people and late-night crowds. 

“We’ve had significant watershed issues because of human waste getting into the watershed," said Bill Brice, vice president of operations with Downtown Austin Alliance. "That’s what drove this initially.”

The group received $150,000 from the city to pilot the temporary restroom. 

Austin City Council asked the city manager to look into testing out a free, public restroom in 2016. The need grew more urgent after local bodies of water were found to contain unsafe levels of fecal bacteria.

“Particularly during bar closing hours, we’ve got people pouring out of these establishments,” Brice said Thursday. “We’ve got 70 liquor licenses in about seven blocks of Sixth Street. And once they leave the bars, there’s nowhere for them to go at night.”

Credit Martin do Nascimento
The handicap-accessible restroom is open 24 hours a day.

The handicap-accessible restroom is basic, with a toilet, toilet paper, trashcan and hand sanitizer. Brice emphasized that the restroom is for everyone.

Under the program, public toilets will be set up at five locations for a month each to determine the best place for a permanent restroom. Each facility will be in a well-lit area, in sight of Austin Police Department cameras.

The restrooms will be open 24 hours a day. From 6 a.m. to midnight, attendants like Xaveon Johnson will clean and restock the bathroom, enforce a 10-minute limit, as well as track hourly usage.

Bryce said attendants will also note any "unintended consequences." 

Johnson sat outside the restroom Thursday, using an iPhone to record how many people used it. In one hour, five people had gone in.

“So, if it does become something that Austin wants, we know how to supply it,” he said.

Sangita Menon contributed to this report. 

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