Comfort Stations

February 18, 2009

Downtown Portland has a number of free standing, open space comfort stations.  These include the historic comfort stations in Chapman, Lownsdale and Ankeny Parks and more recent structures in Waterfront Park under the Hawthorne Bridge and at RiverPlace Marina.  

North Park Blocks at SW 8th and Ankeny  

park-blocks-dThis pair of brick buildings at the south end of the park blocks is in poor condition.  Its superbly attractive location and fine architectural detail, however, argue for its careful preservation.  The twin buildings of approximately 500 sq feet each are joined by a raised, grass-covered plaza flanked by a balustrade with an attractive two-sided fountain of decorative plasterwork.   Ankeny ceased operation as a restroom when the Portland Loo a block away on NW Couch Street opened. 

Lownsdale Men's

Lownsdale Park Men’s 

Lownsdale Park has a freestanding historic brick men’s facility facing SW Salmon Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues.  The renovation of the  large tiled room in the 1980s has stood the test of time.  It contains a large polished concrete sink, a urinal and two open stalls.  

The location off a busy sidewalk with the entrance facing the street enhances the feeling of safety, but at the expense of privacy.   The lack of stall doors and the fact that the main entry door is locked open do not fully protect users from the eyes of passing pedestrians.  An upgrade of this attractive historic structure would welcome broader diversity of users and protect their privacy.   Landscaping with vegetation or use of a screen integrated in the wrought iron structure before the open door should be explored. 

Chapman Women's

Chapman Park Women’s 

Two blocks south of the Lowndale Park Men’s Restroom stands a similar facility for women. The restroom in Chapman Park occupies only half of the historic brick structure.  A tiled room contains two stalls without doors, a sink, and an unbreakable mirror.  

The entry faces SW Madison and is near a bus stop and a solar-operated parking permit dispenser.   This restroom  offers more privacy because the main entrance has a door and it can be locked from the inside.  But here safety and efficiency are compromised. A user can lock the entrance door behind herself but in so doing prevents the second stall from being used.    Or she can leave the door unlocked and risk being followed in by an intruder, would would be free to lock the door..

Historic signage signage is brass letters embedded in the sidewalk indicating “MEN” and “WOMEN”.   There are new ADA compliant signs on the comfort stations and Portland’s distinctive bicycle rack restroom signs on the sidewalks in front.  Both are wheelchair accessible and include taps for pressure washing; neither has a refuse bin or options for hand drying.  

Hawthorne Bridge Restroom

Hawthorne Bridge

A pair of restrooms are built under the stairs leading from the walkway to the bridge span. Each is tiled and fitted with a stainless wall-hung toilet bowl and corner sink, grab bars, toilet paper rod, and a air dryer.  There is a faucet near the floor for power washing.  Proximity to a heavily travelled walkway and bike path enhances safety.  

From the outside, however, it is impossible to verify if they are in use or locked.  Restrooms that open onto the sidewalk or an activity area should be fitted with dual locks, only one of which is operable from inside and signals “occupied” or “vacant.”  A gap of six inches under the door and motion-activated lighting would provide additional safety and deter people from camping inside.    Unmarked and unmapped until 2007 the restrooms served only homeless people and those “in the know”.   With new signage to attract bicycle commuters and families who use the park, the overall situation is improving.   These space efficient, conveniently-located restrooms should be good candidates for renovation. 

RiverPlace Restroom


South Waterfront Park Public restrooms are located in an attractive freestanding building just south of the Riverplace Marina opposite several retail businesses.  The newest of the purpose-built downtown restrooms, they have natural light and are well equipped with stainless steel fixtures, mirrors, hand dryers, trash bins, and baby-changing tables in both the men’s and women’s sections.

This new comfort station inspires a feeling of safety and comfort because of their location between a coffee stand with outdoor tables and a new residential high rise. It serves a diverse clientele, including well-groomed homeless people and boaters who use the marina. Portland Parks and Recreation allows boaters to moor on the public dock and sleep on their boats for an extremely modest fee per night.  Consequently, it would makes sense to have these facilities open all night and to add the shower facilities typical of Columbia River marinas.

Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

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