When you gotta go: How user-friendly are public urinals in Victoria?

I am in a urinal. Not just any urinal, but Victoria’s award-winning public urinal.

Story first published Dec. 9, 2010

I am in a urinal. Not just any urinal, but Victoria’s award-winning public urinal; which wouldn’t be remarkable at 1:30 a.m. on a Friday night, except that I don’t have a penis—or one of those handy pocket pee canoes.

Yes, I’m one of the thousands of women living in Victoria and I have to pee. I check out my options: march blocks up to the Centennial Square bathrooms, shove my way back through a bar line-up, hide illegally in a bush or use the facilities now provided for “people” who use make use of the City’s Late Night Great Night initiative. I choose option D: let’s see how this baby works.

Only a few days ago, I had a chat with the mayor of our city about the logistics of Victoria’s not-so-gender-neutral choices. He explained to me that women don’t make up the majority of urine disposers in this town.

“You know, it’s strange. Women are reluctant to use outside facilities,” Mayor Dean Fortin said. “We do have Centennial Square open, 24/7, with security guards always available there. But we recognize that 85 to 90 percent of our problem is men. Men are the issue. And so, we can’t have one solution that solves all the problems.”

Having said that, he told me the City is looking for opportunities to see if an outdoor urinal redesign would make the facilities more assessable for women. It might be smart not to hold it for that long, however.

“My own experience is that women prefer to use the facilities before they leave [the bar]. They are better planners than men,” Fortin told me. “So, we can’t fix it all at one time but, if we can make it better for the street, I’ll take 85 percent better.”

Right now, I’m stuck with the 15 percent on the other side. Granted, most people assume a urinal is designed for men, and this one is no different: a wide silver bowl that’s just the right height to stumble into and hover over. I’d happily prefer a porcelain bowl but, right now, I’m not picky.

Crowds of rowdy bar-goers are filtering out of the pubs and hoots, hollers and the occasional smashing bottle can be heard all around. Everything smells like vodka and piss. I undo my belt and try to angle myself towards the catcher. Standing frontwards: no good. Leaning half over: fail. The sideways prop: still no. But it’s too late—whatever tells the body “it’s go time” has kicked in, and I am forced to bend over the contraption, incapable of avoiding the cold wet metal on the back of my thighs.

No sooner am I thinking “Ahhh” (and then “Eww” as the pee drains down my legs—narrowly avoiding my pants—and I wonder how many diseases you can contract through the back of your thighs), that I’m faced with another distraction: a very drunk 20-something man is running circles around the urinal, laughing and yelling “What’s going on in there!” It’s not a question. “Take a number, man—it’s in use,” I yell back.

Late-night restaurants like the Joint Pizzeria & Deli suffer their own runoff when it comes to dealing with a pants-holding bar crowd. Owner Jeff Hurry says they see between 100 and 150 people come in (many of them women) to use the facilities after touring the bar scene. Only about half of those people stay to buy pizza, but Hurry says it doesn’t bother him.

“I think of what we do here more as providing a service—it’s a hangout joint as much as a restaurant,” Hurry said. “Right now, with what the City’s offering, what are you supposed to do if you’re a woman? Use a urinal?”

With that said, the funny part hits me like a splash in the face: no toilet paper, no paper towels, no wipes, no hand sanitizer—just a few abandoned Smirnoff and orange juice bottles to console my moment of realization. Of course there’s no toilet paper. How could I forget? This isn’t the penthouse, just an award-winning urinal.

Knowing my fate, I decide to suck it up the urinal way and do my best to drip dry, then shove it all back into my pants. I even give a little throat clear and snort to let the next in line know I’m on my way out.

Pleasingly, with only a little wet residue and I’m certain very few germs, I no longer have to pee. Thanks, City of Victoria, for considering me in your strategy. M

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