Posts filed under ‘Design’

…mapping public toilets by council

There are 406 councils in the UK responsible for public toilets. We collected information on nearly all of them, either through their website information or through nearly 300 FOI requests to councils for The Great British Public Toilet Map. In January I coloured-in a map of the UK to show toilets per council.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 15.53.10

On Thursday I went to a Visualising Data workshop run by the Future Cities Catapult. They gave lots of advice on presenting data and using it to tell stories. For example, it’s important to choose the range of colours carefully so that it’s clear what you’re trying to convey, by using sites like colorbrewer2.org (as opposed to using whatever felt pens you can find in the office, see image 1).

They also proposed that just because you can present location data on a map, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way. This is definitely something to take on board, but not before I figure out how to make the above map digitally.

So I’ve used CartoDB to do just that. The interactive version, with useful things like Titles! and Keys! is here: http://cdb.io/1HuiPn0.  Meanwhile, here are still images.

(note: I’ve not included councils that have no toilets. This also includes some councils that do have toilets but didn’t give any data and we didn’t seek to count London councils at the time, so they are also blank. Also the free trial of CartoDB only allowed 50MB of data which wasn’t enough to import council boundaries for the whole UK, so this is just England & Wales :( )

First, I’ve remapped toilets per council:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 13.08.00

…which is a lot clearer.

Then, because it’s digital I could replot the data instantly and try other things relating to population and area. Toggling between toilets and population showed that broadly, councils with more people have more toilets. It also highlighted areas that are exceptions – noteably the national parks and seaside resorts – loads of toilets and very few people.

This also shows one of the limits, because toilets aren’t necessarily needed so much for residents but for visitors as well.

There are still exceptions. this map of people per toilet shows the huge range – from just 315 people/toilet (Isles of Scilly) to over 200K people sharing 1 public toilet (Solihull).

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 13.06.14

I don’t know what the optimum number of people per toilet is, but the range is alarming.

There is of course the old problem that this may also partially highlight the variety in the information given by different councils either by FOI or website, i.e. what they consider a ‘public toilet’.

However there’s enough bright red to make me think something is going wrong in those areas, and it’s worth a closer, more local investigation. I suspect there are also more interesting datasets to map than population or area, but I’m not sure where to start. Please send suggestions!

You can play with the interactive version at http://cdb.io/1EeCMqg.

May 18, 2015 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

..the public need

Since launching The Great British Public Toilet Map, we’ve had lots of lovely comments from people who think it’s a great idea and who took the time to tell us. The majority have been from people for whom finding a toilet is a serious concern due to medical conditions or medication.

Here is a collection from emails to toiletmap@rca.ac.uk, Twitter and the comment feed of The Guardian article that give first-hand insights into the importance of better toilet information to the general public.

Great idea. As someone who works outside all day a toilet stop is part of the normal routine 

On behalf of all men with prostate problems – thank you.

This is much needed for Ulcerative Colitis and Crohns sufferers. It would be great to have an app so you aren’t reliant on mobile internet signal when you urgently need to go!

The Great British Public Toilet Map is genius and will take all the stress from my holiday in Scotland next month. Thank you.

This is a great idea, especially if, like me, you suffer from prostate cancer.

As someone with an ultra-sensitive bladder, I just wanted to say THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! What a brilliant idea!

At long last an app/map that is REALLY useful, if only something like this had been available when my late father was alive, what a Godsend it would have been on days out when the first thing we had to find was the toilets!!

@GBToiletMap ‘s brilliant map shows you where you can find public toilets and lists whether they are accessible and whether they are gendered

Thank you so much for whoever came up with this idea. I do hope plenty of other people e-mail you with thanks and a hope that this app is available for long time – as you say with an aging population it will be a winner.

Hi, a great project as a Crohns sufferer it can be a nightmare getting caught short and always thinking about it when your out!!

It would be an amazing app on a phone, not only for people like me but also as a parent, often kids can’t wait and the disapproving looks I get when my little boy goes in the bushes??

It’s so important. I’m neither old nor unfortunate enough to suffer from a bladder or bowel condition, if I’m out for more than a couple of hours when on my period I absolutely need to find somewhere. The worst is always a long train journey when the toilets are out of order. I suspect a lot of women read this article and had the same thought.

I’ve suffered from Crohn’s Disease for the last 5 and a half years, so it’s fantastic to see a map like this become a reality, as it certainly makes visiting new places a heck of a lot less daunting. It’s especially important as public toilets are being closed left, right and centre, and many businesses are not always particularly welcoming to those in my situation!

April 27, 2015 at 11:52 am 1 comment

.. The Great British Public Toilet Map

The Great British Public Toilet Map launched last Wednesday 19th November on World Toilet Day*

The GB Public Toilet Map shown on iPhone

Previous versions of the map have existed since 2011, but this is now the largest publicly accessible toilet database in the UK by some way. It has over 9500 toilets, and I’d be confident of saying that the map will help you to find toilets no matter where you live.

If for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t, you can add, edit and remove toilets until it does! We’ve had over 1000 toilets added this week.

There are also a tiny minority of locations where the data has gone a bit loopy with duplicate loos or inaccurate locations. Don’t be shy about removing those that you think are wrong, or telling us at toiletmap@rca.ac.uk about parts of the country that may need a little attention. You’ll be doing us a huge favour.

You can read more about the map in The Mirror, The Guardian or The Telegraph. Or view our press release.

*As well as World Toilet Day, it was also GIS Day (Geographic Information System). They might as well name it Toilet Map Day.

November 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm 1 comment

.. The Great British Public Toilet Map, Take 3.

Last October we were awarded £20 000 from the Nominet Trust to develop The Great British Public Toilet Map (@GBToiletMap).

The Great British Public Toilet Map, at http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

The Great British Public Toilet Map, at http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

The following video was made for the application and explains our project in 2 minutes – click to watch ..

 

We began work in March and will work on the map for 6 months. As I am on maternity leave, the project lead is the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design‘s Senior Research Fellow and Toilet Enthusiast, Jo-Anne Bichard, while the design ideas, data collection and day-to-day work has been embraced by Research Assistants and (soon to be graduating) MA students, Elizabeth Raby and Billie Muraben. Meanwhile, Neontribe are figuring out how to make it all work.

In brief, we aim to add A LOT more toilets. The existing site is little more than a prototype, consisting of data for a handful of London boroughs, a few other councils, National Rail Enquiries and Transport for London, the latter of which is four years out-of-date to my eternal frustration.

We also aim to improve the information about each toilet, since at the moment we have opening hours, wheelchair accessibility info and baby-changing info.

Therefore, we (.. and by ‘we’ I mean Lizzie, Billie and Neontribe) are:

  • Trawling council websites for public and community toilet details
  • Sending Freedom of Information requests when the info is missing or poor
  • Importing the 4000-odd toilet locations from OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Developing a means for the public and councils to add/amend entries, in order to crowd-source for data, to make it more reliable and complete
  • Developing a means for all this extra info to be added back into OSM
  • Redesigning the interface so that all these extra toilets and info can be seen and understood easily

..as well as a million other things that will help us to provide a useful, sustainable website by the autumn for everyone to benefit from.

I will try to blog about things as they develop, such as our massive FOI efforts (I believe the East Midlands are winning for the most replies), our upcoming paper-prototyping, and the licensing headache that is starting to emerge.

However, we met up with Harry and Rupert form Neontribe on May 1st and got very excited to have our first big toilet/data conversation for a very long time.

With such loo-mapping enthusiasm in the room, only good can come of this.

 

 

 

May 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm 2 comments

The 5000 toilets of England and Wales

I’ve completed a count of public and community toilets in England and Wales, as listed on council websites.

It began last May. Spurred on by my annoyance at Wandsworth Council’s decision to stop paying businesses to be in their Community Toilet Scheme (a decision which has reduced the number of participants  from 75 to 7), I wanted to know whether other councils pay participants to be in their schemes, and how many schemes exist.

“How long can it take to Google every council?” I wondered.

Well,  I’ve just finished. (I did have a baby in between)

I decided, whilst I was searching, to also record the URL of each council’s community toilet scheme (CTS) webpage, and also their public convenience page. I also counted how many toilets there were.

A count of public and community toilets in England & Wales (.xls)

I used an ONS spreadsheet of population density to get the list of all the district and unitary authority councils for England and Wales, then googled them one by one. If Google didn’t find anything I searched the council website directly. If that did’t find anything I moved on. Consequently I’ve not done Scotland and Northern Ireland. They’ll have to wait.

The results are:

3980 public toilets

1009 community toilets

59 community toilet schemes

The vast majority of schemes pay businesses to participate, ranging from £200 to £1560 a year. Some councils are not forthcoming with the information and I have to search the minutes of the council meetings, which can affect my will to live. Sometimes I give up.

In Wales, where it seems the Welsh Government has spurred on every council to start a scheme, the going-rate is £500.

These figures are not conclusive. Sometimes I miscount. Also, they are reliant on the information being available online, and on it being up-to-date. Some councils may have lots of loos but prefer to keep it to themselves.

There are also over 1000 toilets in railway stations, a couple of hundred on the Transport for London network, and lots in service stations and shopping centres which are generally not included in these webpages. Also some councils are devolving public toilets to smaller town and parish councils, and I’m not about the google all of them.

So for England and Wales there are probably another 2000 publicly accessible toilets out there which are not included here, bringing the total up to around 7000 loos.

Good to know.  

February 7, 2014 at 5:13 pm 9 comments

.. spending a penny

I can’t remember why I did this, but during the Olympics I found that if I searched Twitter for “30p London” or “30p toilet” I could enjoy over 100 sarcastic, passive-aggressive tweets from people arriving at London’s train stations and bitching about having to pay to pee.

Naturally I thought this is something worth recording, so I saved 20-30 of the best tweets and summarised their sentiments into a story using Storify. It’s called ‘A Posh Wee’, and you can read it here: http://storify.com/gaillyk/posh-wee

The Royal Parks

A few weeks later, the Royal Parks (who run 9 or so parks in London) announced that they were going to start charging 20p for their loos. I can’t say I blame them. I spoke to someone from the Royal Parks as part of our research, who said that whilst their toilets are well-used in summer, there may be no one in all day during a rainy December. The charges would help them to keep operating the facilities.

Vanessa Feltz on BBC London had a phone-in about the Royal Parks charges. I listened intently and learnt via the accompanying tweets that it wasn’t just the Royal Parks that were bringing in charges. Covent Garden public toilets had installed pay barriers! My favourite free toilet in London, charging? How could this be?

Westminster Council

Whilst press attention focused on the parks, Westminster Council had handed more of their toilets, including Covent Garden, over to CityLoos to manage, who would be charging a princely 50p!

CityLoos have been charging 50p at 3 facilities near parliament for some years, but now they’d be taking over 9 attended, free, and in some cases 24hr public toilets in the West End.

A good day for CityLoos; a sad day for the city’s loos?

According to one of Westminster Council’s own surveys, 3 of the West End facilities each have over a million visitors a year. This number will certainly fall now that there’s a charge, and I’d love to know by how much, but it’s still an impressive cash-generator.

Is this the future of public toilets?

It is in London. In the past, local authorities haven’t been able to charge in the same way as private providers like the train stations or CityLoos because of the 1963 Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act, which prohibited the installation of turnstiles because they reduce accessibility.  However the 2012 London Local Authorities Act has revoked this rule for London.

The argument presented to parliament was that the councils didn’t wish to install turnstiles as we know them, but that they wanted to install paddle-gates, such as are used at the ticket barriers at train and tube stations. Apparently, paddle-gates are also classified as ‘a type of turnstile’. Either way, any turnstile is now permitted in the capital, so expect more charges and barriers to appear.

Our research was 50-50 on whether people were for or against charges. The arguments for both can be found in a double-page spread of Publicly Accessible Toilets: An Inclusive Design Guide, which can be downloaded via the link on the right. A popular opinion on charging is “I don’t mind paying for a cleaner loo” and there is an expectation of quality when a charge is implemented.

The Jubiloo

The new toilet at the South Bank, the “Jubiloo“, is 50p a turn, and here they’ve tried to justify the cost with a quality facility.

This is a building that isn’t ashamed to be a toilet! Instead it attracts curiosity, with an attention to both architecture (by Mark Power) and atmosphere.

Bench at "The Jubiloo"

However the train station charges do not guarantee a nice loo, as I know from plenty of personal experience. The sheer amount of use seems to create an ongoing battle just to keep the facilities working.

Happily, charging for the toilet at a train station is not ‘the norm’. The stations that charge correspond largely with the 17 stations operated by Network Rail: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester – and 11 in London.

It transpires that the tweets that I found during the Olympics was not a blip caused by more people coming to the capital for London 2012, but a regular feature of Twitter.

Admittedly, people use Twitter to vent, so the flip-side of the argument, those that think ‘I’m quite happy to pay 30p for the ladies and appreciate the service’ are not going to tweet about it.

However, if you click on ‘30p London‘ or ‘30p toilet‘ it does reveal a certain strength of feeling, particularly amongst visitrs, and thanks to both Westminster Council and the Jubiloo, we can now enjoy ‘50p toilet‘ too!

(for views on charging from the rest of the country, try clicking ‘20p toilet‘. How’s that for regional differences?)

November 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

… the High Street

‘Thanks’ to a tweet by @Feria_Urbanism, I spent too much of Tuesday night watching BBC Parliament, where MPs where debating ‘The Future of the High Street’. There were at least 4 people watching and tweeting, not bad considering the number of MPs taking part (thirty?).

High Streets, communities and urban design interest me, although I’m ‘self-educated’ in the latter, by which I mean that I’ve read Jane Jacobs and get pissed off at pedestrian crossings.

The MPs were referencing The Portas Review, Mary Portas’ report into the future of our high streets.

Mid-speech, one MP (I think it was the opposition minister for local government and communities) seemed to be listing the features and infrastructure that are essential to our town centres and I flippantly asked my fellow tweeters if The Portas Review mentioned public toilets.
Keep reading…

January 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm 1 comment

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