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When Nature Calls, It's Hard to Find a Restroom on the National Mall

Portable Toilets Set Up for July 4; Indrani Soemardjan Photo

Portable toilets set up on the National Mall for 4th of July celebration. Indrani Soemardjan via Flickr.

Twenty-five million visitors a year visit the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. And for those millions, there are 80 public toilets and 26 urinals. What's a guy or gal to do when nature calls?

Fortunately, the National Park Service, which manages the mall, is aware of the problem, as the following snippet from a story in the Baltimore Sun explains:

The National Park Service will address complaints about the lack of toilets as it prepares for its first landscape improvements to the Mall since the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The agency polled the public last November for suggestions on its Web site and at a symposium about the Mall. Among 5,000 responses received, lack of restrooms was high on the list - along with scant parking, signs and restaurants.


However, according to the story improvements to the mall won't be completed until the Park Service's centennial, in 2016.

"I can see where restrooms would be a desirable addition to the Mall, though I wonder if upkeep would be an issue," Matthew Lombardi, editor of Fodor's travel magazine, told the newspaper. "From what I understand, the restrooms maintained by the NPS at the major monuments to the west of the Mall aren't always as clean as they should be."


For locals, this can be a deterrent to visiting the Mall, though the biggest deterrent of people I know is a disdain for the crowds of tourists. There are so many other things to do in Washington as well; we've been there and done that. There are prettier parks (also mostly NPS-administered), there are interesting museums, and there certainly are monuments (in fact, people feel that there are far too many monuments littering the Mall and the rest of the city).

If you come to Washington, I hope you won't be too scared to take in the rest of the city. Walk through Rock Creek Park, check out Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan, visit the National Arboretum, check out cultural programs spread out throughout the city (check out calendars on DC Indymedia and the City Paper . There's neat stuff going on at almost all times in corners of the city people never visit (from Anacostia to Petworth to Capitol Hill--talking about the residential neighborhood, not Congress). This Friday is the monthly critical mass bike ride that starts out at Dupont Circle at 6 PM and will bike as a kind of protest statement ("we are traffic") - the ride is slow and leisurely, and people stay together. We usually go by places like the White House and the Mall and through the neighborhoods and can always use more bikes. It's nice to be able to bike slowly through the streets once in awhile and not have to be afraid (the police leave us alone 98% of the time, and the angry motorists can't really do anything about it because we stick together - you'll see small children on the rides, too. Anyhow, that's just one example. Washington isn't just the Mall, and there are plenty of toilets throughout the parts of the city you aren't visiting and the activities you aren't doing in a city that's far more interesting than monuments to dead people and the official government versions of U.S. history that you'll see subtly in the various museums (and not just the American History museum).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

The lack of restrooms is a definite problem on the National Mall - although I wonder how the NPS will deal with the situation without turning additional restrooms into de facto homeless shelters. The other major problem is that all of the Smithsonians and Federal Buildings surrounding the Mall effectively shut down around 5pm, creating an effective dead space in the heart of the City. Hopefully the Park Service's plans for the National Mall will allow for additional restaurants, cafes, coffe shops, ice creameries, etc. that could add some cultural vibrance to what should be the heart of the Nation's capitol.

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