Letters: How to Reduce the Wait Time for Women’s Bathrooms

Readers discuss the value of “potty parity”—and the potential drawbacks of a world with only gender-neutral restrooms.

Sean Gallup / Getty

The Long Lines for Women’s Bathrooms Could Be Eliminated. Why Haven’t They Been?

Even after three decades of efforts to give men and women equal access to public toilets, Joe Pinsker reported last week, women still have to wait longer to use the restroom. Gender-neutral bathrooms present a possible solution. “One way to guarantee that men and women wait the same amount of time for a toilet,” Pinsker wrote, “is to make them wait for the same toilets.”

“From an economic standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to increase the number of toilet fixtures if that’s going to decrease the amount of rentable area in a building,” says Christopher Chwedyk, a building-code consultant at the firm Burnham Nationwide. In other words, toilets don’t make money (and are quite expensive to install), so developers don’t have a financial reason to go beyond what the code requires.

I think the view that toilets don’t make money is false. I frequent certain coffee shops, restaurants, theaters, shopping areas, and event spaces in New York City because of their clean and accessible restroom facilities. I avoid other businesses that don’t meet my standards because I want to be comfortable and feel respected by the establishment. If I’m not comfortable and I don’t feel respected, you don’t get my money—or you won’t get it a second time.

Kati Neiheisel
New York, N.Y.

It is not a fundamental right to have equal waiting time. Why would any business need to account for the fact that it takes more time for women to use the bathroom? One could also say that more men attend hockey games and therefore should have more bathrooms there.

Robert WA Machuk
Alberta, Canada

I was in the Air Force in 1978 when I took a long leave and went to Europe. I flew back to the U.S. from Luxembourg, and remember using the toilet at the airport. It was simply labeled WC, with no gender given. I thought nothing of it at the time; I simply entered and found myself in a long room with about 10 urinals on the far end wall, approximately 15 stalls on the left, and a line of sinks on the right. I entered a stall; a few minutes later I heard a stall door open, and heard what sounded like stiletto heels crossing the floor. Huh, I thought. Shortly thereafter, upon exiting my stall, I saw a woman at one of the sinks applying lipstick, and a man at the far end of the room using a urinal. It was then that I realized that I had unwittingly stumbled into one of Europe’s unisex restrooms. A bit disconcerting at first, but then I thought, How sensible. The three of us wound up at the line of sinks at the same time. We exchanged perfunctory greetings, went our separate ways, and in the end, the sky didn’t fall.

Dave R. Atkinson
Carver, Mass.

Having been in long lines waiting at a women’s restroom, I heartily agree with efforts to create “potty parity.” The public facilities where men and women share the same restroom with lockable cubicles is a welcome change except for one thing. Too many men are sloppy at aiming, and I hate using a toilet and having the cubicle floor soiled with and smelling of urine. Perhaps shared toilets can have a sign asking that users take care to aim carefully and/or have sanitary wipes so that people can clean up after themselves.

Margaret Eaton
New Haven, Vt.

As a woman in my 50s who has had major urinary emergencies ever since I graduated out of diapers, I do take liberties like using the men’s facilities when the women’s has a line at event intermissions. After asking an exiting man if there is, indeed, an available stall, I enter the room saying, “I am not looking; I am not looking.” I wonder if these rooms are designed with the urinals by the door on purpose to discourage women from using their empty stalls. However, I understand that bathrooms full of rowdy men are intimidating.

I suggest a men’s room with only urinals, a women’s room with flimsy partitions that allow for quicker and better cleaning (fewer corners to deal with), and a co-ed space with stronger partitions.

Cécile Lagandré
Kansas City, Mo.

Just read your article on why long lines for women’s bathrooms still haven’t been eliminated, and cringed at the thought that gender-neutral bathrooms might be considered a solution.  While I do support them, and they seem necessary for a completely different set of reasons, gender-neutral bathrooms do not address the problem sufficiently, and I hope we can do better than that.

Keep the gender-neutral bathrooms, but please do not take away the women’s rooms!

I currently work in a building where the adult restrooms (single-stall) are being used by individuals of any gender. I am asking (so far unsuccessfully) to again have some of them designated and observed as female-only. Why? Because of the number of times that I have gone into a restroom only to turn around again to look for another one—and sometimes another one after that—because a stand-up user has left urine drips and drops on the seat, the floor, and/or the front of the toilet. Since I have to move my clothes and my body and my shoes into and onto those areas, I find this disgusting. Walking out of a restroom with sticky feet is itself disgusting—even more so when the urine ends up on oneself and one’s clothes.

This could be addressed behaviorally. And utopia is just around the corner. Until then, I am firmly desirous of having access to women-only restrooms.

Barbara Lamay
Northampton, Mass.