In a city where residents seeking relief are more likely to duck into the restroom of a posh hotel than venture into a widely used public bathroom, an oasis has emerged in Penn Station.
Restrooms at Penn's Long Island Rail Road waiting area have had a $5.5-million face-lift.
The prisonlike steel fixtures and manual toilets were replaced with fully automated commodes, hand dryers and spouts, and opened to the public last week.
The drab concrete walls are no more. Brighter lights now beam on walls of shimmering mosaic tiles that resemble colorful tropical fish scales. Pungent odors, as common in public restrooms as graffiti-filled stalls, seem to be a thing of the past. The upgrade included a fresh-air-intake system that allows a continuous flow of outside air.
Gerry Langone, 41, of Glen Cove, was happy not to have to pinch his nose. "The odor is better," the occasional LIRR rider said Monday. "It's definitely a big improvement from what it was."
Renovations began in June 2008, and were completed late last month.
Improvements were also made to the waiting area. New 46-inch monitors display track and departure times as well as service-related messages. Also, 76 new cushioned seats were installed in the area.
Restrooms were last remodeled more than 15 years ago as part of a larger renovation of the LIRR Penn Station concourse level in 1993, LIRR officials said.
Monday afternoon, a steady stream of women easily entered and left the restroom, a result of the bathroom being doubled from 690 square feet to 1,400 square feet as part of the renovation. The number of toilets increased from 17 to 25 and the number of sinks rose from eight to 19.
"I didn't want to touch a seat with any part of my body," Hollenbeck said. "Now it's a lot cleaner."
Between 12,000 and 15,000 LIRR customers use the Penn Station waiting area restrooms every day.
Lauralee Kelly, 23, of Garden City, was among the thousands who used the bathrooms Monday. She said when she thought about public restrooms in New York City, one word came to mind: "gross."
But that wasn't the case at the newly remodeled LIRR bathrooms.
"To get to a good bathroom, you usually have to go to a restaurant," she said, adding that now "I don't mind using the Penn Station one."