The Sunday Update: January 13, 2008

The vid:

The news: New Yorkers, You May Be Excused: A Pay Toilet Opens

Published January 10, 2008, 12:41 pm

By Jennifer 8. Lee

Daniel L. Doctoroff, the outgoing deputy mayor for economic development, performed a ceremonial flush on Thursday of the city’s first permanent pay toilet. (Photo: G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times)

Few toilets — if any — have ever receivpay toileted the level of government and media fanfare that greeted the new public pay potty that opened today in Madison Square Park. First, the full force of New York City’s newspapers, television and radio were there to tape, record and take notes on the first flushes. Second, the toilet is the product of an on-and-off decades efforts (detailed below) by city officials to, uh, serve the needs of New Yorkers.

So it was understandable that the city officials reveled in the toilet paper roll-cutting ceremony (which, fittingly, they did with their hands) on Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets. But they couldn’t resist the temptation of scatological humor: “No. 1!” (Janette Sadik-Khan, transportation commissioner), “in loo of” (Adrian Benepe, parks commissioner), “doesn’t block pedestrian movement” (Daniel L. Doctoroff, outgoing deputy mayor for economic development).

Officials said the 20 new toilets to be installed will be the first permanent ones in use in the city. The kiosk in Madison Square Park, made of tempered glass and stainless steel, is about the size of a newsstand, with an automatic sliding door that opens when a deposit of 25 cents is made. It will initially be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (bad news for late-night revelers), though those hours may be adjusted.

Flushing, as on an airplane, is done at the press of a button. And men, take note: There is no toilet seat to leave up. (or for ladies to leave down) There are toilet covers available.

A user has a (generous) 15-minute period of privacy before the doors pop open — with a warning light and alarm going off when there are only three minutes left. In between is an automatic 90-second self-cleaning process, which will be one of the great mysteries of New York going forward, since it happens only when the doors were closed. The toilets are locked every night to prevent someone from camping out inside.

The pay toilets are part of a $1 billion street-furniture arrangement with Cemusa, a Spanish outdoor-advertising conglomerate to provide matching bus shelters, newsstands, bike parking racks and pay toilets. Since Cemusa makes money off the advertising on the “street furniture,” it actually pays the city: $1 billion in fees, and another $400 million in New York promotional advertising on other structures the company operates outside New York.

In 1975, the state outlawed pay toilets, on the theory coin-operated stalls in public restrooms discriminated against women. (Doesn’t bear thinking about) In 1990, a group of homeless people sued New York City and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for access to public toilets; the state granted the city an exception to the ban in 1993.

John Mack, 35, of Brooklyn staked out the toilet today, waiting for the demonstrations to end, so he could be the first to use it. He had come knowing it would be on the nightly news, but it wasn’t entirely a self-promotional gimmick. “I actually do have to use the bathroom,” he said.

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