What is GottaGo!?
The GottaGo! campaign was initiated by a group of concerned citizens who took part in the city sponsored Citizen’s Academy Program in the fall of 2013. It advocates for a network of (and signage to) accessible, free, clean, safe and environmentally responsible public toilets and water fountains at major transit stops, key public places and parks to meet the needs of residents and tourists in Ottawa, Canada’s Capital City.
How does GottaGo! operate?
The GottaGo! campaign is run by a small core team of volunteers and supporters who work together on strategies and projects, and respond to many requests for information on public toilets. In addition, students have made valuable contributions with specific projects including research, assistance with social media and participation in public actions.
What is the main focus of GottaGo!?
GottaGo! has put a great deal of effort into raising public awareness about the importance of public toilets in making Ottawa a liveable city. Over the past 6 years, GottaGo! has continuously put pressure on the City of Ottawa, National Capital Commission and Ottawa Tourism to show tangible leadership in providing free, accessible, clean, safe and environmentally responsible public toilets with handwashing stations.
What has GottaGo! achieved?
• GottaGo! is continuously encouraging public dialogue about the lack public toilets in Ottawa and has gained some traction in raising public awareness about the importance of public toilets in improving public health. For example, the media attention GottaGo! has received during the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown has intensified public awareness campaign, and increased the urgency of public sanitation to be recognized as a serious public health issue.
• GottaGo! successfully lobbied the City Council to include public toilets in the LRT node stations (Hurdman and Bayview), where none had been previously planned.
• GottaGo! has successfully advocated for porta-potties in some splash pads and sports fields.
• GottaGo! has steadily increased media attention (tv, radio and print) about the importance of public toilets.
• GottaGo! has built a network of supporters through its website and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
What do public toilets have to do with public health?
Having a network of clean, safe and accessible public toilets is essential public health infrastructure to help us stay healthy. Public health in Canada is defined as the organized efforts of society to keep people healthy and prevent injury, illness and premature death. It is a combination of programs, services and policies that protect and promote the health of all Canadians.
Why are clean, safe and accessible public toilets important?
Public toilets are an indispensable public health service. It is a basic human right and a moral imperative in ensuring human dignity. More than ever, COVID 19 has made clear that clean, safe and accessible public toilets is fundamentally a public health issue.
Are public toilets essential public health infrastructure?
Yes, they are essential public infrastructure in maintaining a healthy society. Public toilets are the most intimate way to show that we care and should be treated like any public infrastructure such as roads and buildings. For instance, elevators, benches, street lamps, parks, garbage containers are recognized as necessary to keep public spaces clean, safe, and liveable. Public toilets should be considered equally as necessary.
How can I find a public toilet in downtown Ottawa?
It’s a challenge. GottaGo! found 22 public toilets in downtown Ottawa in buildings accessible to the public. We call them “Ottawa’s hidden toilets”. Ottawa Watch and Ottawa Walking Tours provide detailed maps listing public toilets. There are also a few on the Ottawa Tourism Map. However, there are zero street signs indicating where to find them.
Are there any public toilets on Light Rail Transit (LRT or O-Train) in Ottawa?
There are 4 public toilets in the LRT (Phase 1 Confederation Line, running east to west) – 2 in the terminus stations (Tunney’s Pasture and Blair) as required by the Province. And 2 in each of the node stations (Bayview and Hurdman) as a result of our lobbying. However, there are no public toilets at any stations on the Trillium Line (O-Train) running North to South. (Note: The Trillium Line will be closed for two years, from May 2020 for construction and expansion). GottaGo! is advocating for inclusion of public toilets in this expanded line.
Where does Ottawa stand in providing clean, safe and accessible public toilets?
Ottawa lags way behind many cities in Canada (Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver) and elsewhere (Japan, South Korea, New Zealand). Ottawa needs an extensive network of public toilets to serve the ever growing community. Some public toilets exist in Ottawa but there is no signage (see Ottawa’s Hidden Toilets). Historically, there were a few public toilets. For example, Union Station (now known as Government Conference Centre) was saved from demolition in 1966 as it had the only public toilet facilities in the city’s core at the time.
What are the main challenges in providing clean, safe and accessible public toilets in Ottawa?
There are three frequently cited challenges: cost, cleanliness and safety. However, the main challenge is lack of political will and imagination by people in decision making positions in finding practical solutions. There are many examples around the world of less expensive public toilet options with easy installation, cleaning, maintenance and safety features. Germany, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Australia to name a few, have excellent, well signed networks of public toilets. Many cities in Germany, for example, pay coffee shops and others, a small monthly stipend to make their toilets available to the public, free of charge. On the contrary, public toilets are being closed rapidly in the name of austerity in the UK.
What does a public toilet cost?
• There is a wide range of cost options. At the high end, a self-cleaning (i.e. after each use) public toilet costs around $250,000 – 300,000. Montreal City is building 12 of these in high-pedestrian-traffic areas, at a total budgeted cost of $ 3 million. They are located with easy access to water and sewer service connections.
• Portland Loo (Oregon, USA) costs about $150,000 each. They are accessible, easy to install and clean, and it comes with safety features. Cities in British Columbia (Victoria, Nelson and Smithers) have installed Portland Loo toilets that are operational year round.
• A lower cost option, suitable for playgrounds and nature pathways, are composting toilets. Pierrefonds, a suburb north of Montreal, has 3 of these at an approximate cost of $50,000 each.
• At the low-end cost are porta-potties. In Ottawa, a 4 month rental with a cleaning service twice a week works out at about $5 a day.
There is also a cost to not having public toilets available. When people leave their home, hotel or workplace, many need to be assured of access to a public toilet when needed. This has been called the “toilet tether”. Without this security, some people will hesitate to go for a walk, visit shops or even to go out at all. Clearly, people who are unhoused must have access to public toilets.
Do public toilets need to be re-designed for our post-pandemic lives?
We need to re-think public toilets to enhance infection control. This could include changes such as: touchless or sensor taps, transparent soap dispensers, paper towels (not the air blasters), exit doors that open out, self cleaning and an attendant.
How can I support GottaGo!?
GottaGo! needs your support. Every effort, large or small, matters to make clean, safe and accessible public toilets a reality in Ottawa. Here are some suggestions. (If you have any idea that is not included in the list below, please let us know.)
• Become a volunteer. We are always looking for volunteers to assist us in social media handling, public engagement, campaigns, research projects and many others. If you have any specific idea as to how you can volunteer, please let us know.
• Write to us about your experiences searching for public toilets, finding them closed and other issues (needs and conditions) in your neighbourhood. Take pictures of public toilets (here or elsewhere in your travels) and send them to us.
• Reach out to local media (print and digital), radio and TV stations about public toilet issues and urge them to cover this in their reporting. Tell them to contact GottaGo! for more information.
• Write or approach your ward councillor about the need for public toilets in your area. GottaGo! will be more than happy to assist you.
• Spread the word about GottaGo! actions to people around you.
• Follow GottaGo! on Twitter and Facebook.
• Become an intern. We have internship opportunities from time to time for university and college students. Contact us for more information.
• Community service hours for high school students. Please contact us.
• Make donation. We accept donations but cannot issue a tax receipt.