People line up to use a free public restroom in...

People line up to use a free public restroom in New York on April 27, 2017. Credit: AP / Verena Dobnik

"Let our people go!" was the plea Tuesday at New York city hall, where legislation was being considered to find at least one spot in each ZIP code suitable for a public bathroom.

Under the legislation, Introduction 258 of 2022, the city parks and transportation departments must consult with local community boards and the public at large when deciding where the bathrooms should go and issue a report with the agencies’ conclusions.

"The report would also need to include the factors the agencies considered when choosing the locations for installing public bathrooms, costs and challenges associated with installing public bathrooms," as well as recommendations for the facilities' installation, safety measures and challenges associated with proposed locations, according to the legislation, drafted at the request of the Manhattan borough president, Mark Levine, and sponsored by 30 City Council members, including prime sponsor Rita Joseph.

There are about 200 ZIP codes in the city. If the legislation is enacted, the report would be due June 1.

Joseph, Levine and others held a pro-public-bathroom rally Tuesday at the City Hall steps. 

"NYC NEEDS MORE PUBLIC RESTROOMS!" read one sign. Another read: "LET OUR PEOPLE GO!"

"I’m sure every single person can think of a time when they were stranded and had to search for a business that had a bathroom they could use," Joseph said April 28 in introducing the bill. "When we don’t have public bathrooms, we smell human waste in public parks, in our subway stations, in our neighborhoods, no one wants to see that. We can prevent this by providing public bathrooms."

In a city of more than 8.4 million residents — that doesn't include tourists or people who come into the city for work — there are just 1,103 public bathrooms, in parks, subway stations, libraries, pools and privately owned public spaces, according to a 2020 analysis in an Architectural League of New York publication. In decades past, there had been many more bathrooms but they were closed, among other reasons, due to budget cuts, crime, drugs and sex.

An average, no-frills public bathroom for a park — four walls, several toilets and sinks — costs $3.6 million on average, the news outlet The City reported in 2019.

Notable locations for existing public bathrooms in Manhattan include one in Bryant Park, and another near Union Square Park. Few are open 24/7, and certain ones, such as some inside Penn Station, are open only to ticketed passengers. The MTA has not reopened subway bathrooms closed during the pandemic.

A “Public Toilet Index” put out in August by the British bathroom supply company QS Supplies and the online toilet-finding PeePlace found that the United States has only 8 toilets per 100,000 people overall — tied with Botswana. (Iceland is at the top of the ranking, with 56 per 100,000.)

An email sent Tuesday to Mayor Eric Adams' press office asking if he'll sign the bill wasn't returned. It has the support of TikTok influencer Teddy Siegel, who runs an account dedicated to public restrooms, Got2GoNYC.

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