City of Fairfax triples access to public restrooms with innovative high tech solution

Fairfax Old Town Sq Throne Fairfax Progress Throne Throne Labs
FAIRFAX, Va. - ColoradoDesk -- In an increasingly divided country there is one thing everyone has in common – the need for a bathroom. Yet when people need to "go," clean publicly accessible bathrooms can be hard to find. In Virginia, there is only 1 public restroom for every 14,000 people according to the Public Toilet Index.

In the City of Fairfax, VA, a suburb of DC, solving the bathroom crisis became a major rallying cry for Mayor Catherine Read during her November 2022 campaign. "When we don't provide bathroom facilities to visitors, we are forcing them to leave our public spaces," says Read, a mother who recalled many occasions when she'd have to cut park time short due to bathroom needs. "The lack of public bathrooms also puts businesses in a position where they have to hang 'Restrooms for Customers Only' signs. It's not a warm welcoming greeting and not a good look for any downtown," Read added.

Read tapped into an issue that extended far beyond Fairfax.

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), conducted a national survey which found that over half of the respondents or their family members had difficulty accessing a public restroom within the past week. To address this significant issue, the Foundation launched The Open Restroom Movement, aiming to increase restroom availability for all people with urgent needs.

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"Restroom access should be a basic human right, but far too many people in the U.S. can't easily find an open public restroom. Our survey results confirm an urgent need to rethink and increase how public restrooms are made available and publicized to our communities," said Michael Osso, President and CEO of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. "We have identified some concrete and straightforward approaches to the situation, and the Foundation looks forward to working with the private and public sectors to create immediate solutions to this public health crisis."

But there is a reason the bathroom crisis hasn't been solved – it's hard! "The high capital cost of installing new bathrooms and the ongoing operational headaches of monitoring and maintaining bathroom infrastructure, has historically made it difficult for cities to quickly install critical bathroom infrastructure," remarked Stacey Somerfied, the Director of Parks and Recreation who was charged with finding a bathroom solution by newly elected Read and the Fairfax City Council.

The City soon found Throne Labs, a DC-based start-up building networks of smart bathrooms that provide a lovable bathroom experience, but that can be deployed anywhere in a matter of hours. Thrones require no connection to water or sewer and leverages technologies such as solar power and internet connected sensors to make bathroom provision fast and flexible while providing a nice bathroom people want to use. Leaning into this locally-developed innovation, the City more launched Thrones at their Old Town Square, Van Dyck Park and along Fairfax Blvd. By adding Thrones, the City of Fairfax tripled the average bathroom availability in Virginia with one public restroom for every 4,800 residents.

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The Thrones are custom wrapped in art created by Fairfax artists and the City worked with Throne Labs, the Lamb Center and FACETS to ensure equitable bathroom access – providing bilingual instructions and Throne tap cards to enable entry without a phone. Free menstrual products are also available in all Thrones in partnership with Egal that makes getting a pad as easy as grabbing some toilet paper with their innovative Pads on a Roll product. "We're thrilled to be partnering with the City of Fairfax and Throne to create a blueprint for communities to offer equitable access to bathrooms and menstrual products," said Penelope Finnie, Egal CEO.

Since launching Thrones in May 2023, the Thrones have seen an average of 68 uses per day. A City survey found that 67% of Throne users described their experience as "Amazing!" (with another 22% believing it to "be a good bathroom solution"). Seventy-two percent (72%) said they would visit parks more frequently if there were more bathrooms available. The City encourages individuals to submit feedback on Throne bathrooms and share how they are impacting their use of parks and public spaces.

Fairfax is holding a community event on Saturday, September 23rd from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Van Dyck Park where they will celebrate the impact the addition of three Throne bathrooms has had on local bathroom access and collect additional community feedback on the solution. There will be ice cream, cookie decorating, and fun for the whole family. Attendees can meet the artists that designed the three Fairfax Thrones as well as representatives from Throne Labs and Egal.

For photos and other background information download the Throne Press Kit here.

Jessica Heinzelman

Source: Throne Labs
Filed Under: Government

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