Our View: Lack of public restrooms is a matter of some urgency

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The lack of public restrooms in Old Town have created a difficult situation for businesses in Old Town (Photo Credit/James Cullum)
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Where do you go when you have to, well, go? That’s actually a question of some urgency for many Old Town visitors.

City officials work hard to draw visitors to our historic city, as tourism is one of the main drivers of our local economy. Visit Alexandria exists mostly for this purpose. Tourism is a driving factor behind the push for a Business Improvement District in Old Town.

Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, recently wrote on our pages that 3.5 million people visited Alexandria last year. This is an impressive number.

And yet, given that there is no public restroom on King Street west of city hall, which is 301 King St., it could be argued that Alexandria callously lures tourists in, takes their money and literally leaves them nowhere to go.

It’s simply unbelievable that there are no public restrooms at the Metro stations at King Street and Braddock Road. Building these stations without bathroom facilities showed an incredible lack of foresight – and compassion. Metro exists mainly to ferry local residents to and from work and serves as an environmentally friendly way to bring tourists to Alexandria.

And yet, a resident after a long day at work, possibly complete with delays on their Metro train, has no facility to use when they get off the train – despite the fact that many people walk significant distances to and from the station. Or a family visiting D.C. that decides to Metro over to check out Christ Church and the Torpedo Factory has no free restroom option upon arriving in Alexandria. That’s some welcome.

The bathroom scarcity is not just a function of poor planning by city hall. Unfortunately, a few destructive visitors have made it worse for everyone. Some restaurants will only allow paying customers to use their facilities because of drug use and destruction of their bathrooms.

It’s difficult to blame business owners for trying to protect their investments. But it’s not so easy to absolve city planners. And while additional bathrooms – all along the waterfront – are apparently part of Alexandria’s 10-year capital improvement planning, that’s not very helpful to little Johnny visiting from Indiana who needs to go, now.

It bears repeating: Budgeting is philosophy. It’s interesting to parse what Alexandria’s budget says about our priorities.

Our city is in the midst of an unprecedented surge in taxation and spending, including on many needed and deferred items. But we are also about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consultant for a task force. And if the Old Town BID is imposed on property owners, there’s still no provision for an opt-in vote – then this would amount to around $500,000 spent on consultants and a BID CEO. That half million dollars would surely pay for a large bathroom at the King Street Metro station and perhaps at least some permanent Port-a-Johns halfway to the waterfront.

We’re about to spend a fortune on sewers. Let’s build a few more bathrooms while we’re at it.

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