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SF Launches New Public Toilet at Embarcadero Plaza

The next-generation restrooms are environmentally sustainable, brighter and easier to keep clean
By - posted 11/24/2022 No Comment

San Francisco Public Works, in partnership with the JCDecaux street furniture company, is ushering in a new generation of public toilets in San Francisco at no cost to the City, with the first one installed at Embarcadero Plaza in time for the holiday season and a post-pandemic rebirth of the City.

Since 1994, San Francisco has benefited from a unique collaboration with JCDecaux in providing 25 clean and accessible public toilets for use by San Francisco’s residents, workers and visitors.

Beginning at Embarcadero Plaza, the original forest green Art Nouveau-style toilets are being replaced with a new model that has more efficient and effective cleaning systems, as well as better lighting that includes a skylight to bring in daylight from above and a rain-water collection network that supports routine washing. Their mechanical systems have been upgraded. The toilets self-clean after every use and the hand-washing system is stronger and more energy-efficient. As before, the public toilets will be accessible to people with disabilities and connected directly to City sewer, water and electrical lines.

As part of the negotiated, 20-year agreement, JCDecaux is underwriting the full cost of the design, manufacturing, installation and daily maintenance of the 25 public toilets and in return is granted the right to install 114 sidewalk advertising kiosks throughout downtown, the Financial District and popular tourist areas – the same number allowed under the original agreement.

In addition, JCDecaux will pay $2.2 million a year for staffing at approximately 11 of the toilets as part of the Public Works’ Pit Stop program in which an attendant is on hand to ensure the toilets are kept safe, clean and operational for their intended use. The new public toilet at Embarcadero Plaza will be staffed seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The new toilets, as well as the updated advertising kiosks, will be located in the same locations as the original amenities. Among the public toilet locations are Embarcadero Plaza, Civic Center Plaza, Twin Peaks, the 16th Street and 24th Street BART stations and the Castro.

“These public toilets provide bathroom access for our residents and visitors, alike,” said interim Public Works Director Carla Short. “They are clean and safe, and these updated street amenities reflect our San Francisco values, as we invest in a public realm designed to promote dignity, inclusivity and beauty. We also recognize they are an important tool to help us maintain sidewalk cleanliness, while also providing people with bathrooms that are inviting and sanitary.”

The current 25 toilets collectively averaged 710,968 flushes annually over the past five years. But after more than 20 years on the sidewalks, the old public toilets are ready to be retired: the mechanical systems are outdated, with replacement parts difficult to procure and the materials are degraded. Once the original agreement between the City and JCDecaux expired, a Request for Proposals was released to identify the next public toilet vendor. JCDecaux was chosen in a competitive-bidding process to manufacture San Francisco’s new public toilets.

The first of the newly designed toilets will be installed and tested at Embarcadero Plaza, across from the Ferry Building. The location was chosen as it is at the confluence of locals, commuters and tourists – and adjacent to a vibrant public space. Open for public use during a testing period of up to 60 days, the feedback will be used to troubleshoot any mechanical problems that may emerge. After the testing, the first toilet will remain in place at Embarcadero Plaza, and the remaining 24 toilets will be fabricated and then installed.

SmithGroup, a national design firm with a robust San Francisco office, was chosen as the winner of an invitation-only competition to redesign the public toilets and multi-function advertising kiosks.

“The new toilets are unique to San Francisco, with a design that blends sculpture and technology to create a cleaner, safer and more hygienic experience,” said Bill Katz, design principal with SmithGroup. “With their modeled stainless-steel surface, they will literally reflect our diverse city neighborhoods and their deep-rooted history while creating sculptural street furniture.”

The design of the new toilets and kiosks complements the contemporary and elegant designs of the BART portals on Market Street and the café kiosk at Civic Center Plaza at Larkin and Grove streets. SmithGroup’s design for the toilets and kiosks were reviewed and approved by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the City’s Historic Preservation Commission.

As the toilets and kiosks are intended to be used for the next 20 years, they need to be not only timeless in their design but detailed, fabricated and maintained to withstand decades of public use.

In addition to serving as a platform for advertising, 10 of the 114 kiosks will house micro-retail establishments, such as newspaper stands, coffee vendors and artists, and another 15 will include interactive screens with public service announcements and wayfinding information. The advertising on the kiosks will offset JCDecaux’s capital costs for the toilets and the operating costs for the program. There will be no advertising on the public toilets.

In a partnership with San Francisco Arts Commission, 40 of the advertising kiosks along Market Street will include public art posters by local artists.

“We are excited to be working collaboratively with both San Francisco Public Works and the project team from SmithGroup,” said J. Francois Nion, chief operating officer of JCDecaux San Francisco. “Together we have developed the next generation of street amenities which will be supported by a strong maintenance program that will better serve San Franciscans and visitors alike.”

The 25 JCDecaux public toilets are on City land in the public right of way, under Public Works’ jurisdiction, or on property managed by San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the Port of San Francisco.