A Country Divided—Over Bathrooms!

Some friends and I were cycling Hines Drive this past September, 2017, when we came across a nice little (and much needed) bathroom building, called “The Haggerty Comfort Station” (photo #1):

Note: This location is the little castle image on the map, here.

It turns out to be a rather historic place, as declared by the sign in front, (photo #2). It reads:

“This comfort station was one of the early public rest stops, and it was a prototype for roadside development. When originally constructed in 1937, this station had a full-time attendant, an information booth and concession stand. Wayne County was one of the first county road agencies in the United States to officially promote the ‘Good Roads Movement,’ setting procedures for design, construction and maintenance of roadside developments.”

But I noticed something: this line for the bathroom, on the right when facing the building, was for the Ladies’ Room! Here is a close-up (photo #3) showing mixed blacks and whites, but ONLY women waiting to use the bathroom!

This observation reminded me of a pet peeve I had previously described in an email (copied, below), which I sent August 13 , 2015 to letters@detroitnews.com. I was never contacted and to my knowledge (a later internet search) it was never printed. But now I know the problem has existed since at least the 1930’s!

When will things change!?! Doesn’t this upset anyone else? It should! It should matter to all who claim to “love” their female family members, significant others, and friends. Love is more than emotion–you have to do things differently, think differently, live differently. That we men, who like to think of ourselves as gifted with talents of planning and constructing things, have let the problem go on–for so long, and seemingly everywhere–is simply pathetic.

As a reader, what can you do? If you know someone in a position of public responsibility, forward this article to them. Otherwise, just post a link on your preferred social media and maybe someone else will pick it up.
Dear Detroit News:

I would like to submit a brief missive to your letters column in the hope that the right people among your readership might be paying attention. Here is the text I would like you to print:

“One of the undeserved privileges of being a man is not having to wait in line to use a public restroom. I never cease to be amazed at how women put up with treatment as second class citizens–namely, in the way of frequent queuing outside their restrooms. Whether in a fixed public location or at a temporary public event, the commonly lopsided ability to accommodate both genders is an insult to women.

“Ladies, why do you accept it! At home you request the up / down position of the toilet seat and sometimes even its cover be conscientiously managed; why don’t you demand that elected officials, civil planners, contracted architects, and large event planners calculate an appropriate number of stalls and fund their availability?

“Here are two recent examples from the month of July. (1) I was in baggage claim at Detroit Metro Airport’s new ‘north’ terminal and the women’s restroom had a line out the door while the men’s did not. (2) I attended the Concours d’Elegance classic vehicle show at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, MI (where the lowest entrance ticket was $30) and the lone mobile restroom truck in the center of the event, in the center of the grounds, had a line for the ladies, not the guys. Why? Neither venue / event qualifies as impoverished or otherwise poorly planned. Yet, despite all the time and money that was devoted to preparation, planners managed to screw up such a basic thing. But it’s not just these two places where it happens. This lack of consideration routinely occurs everywhere I look.

“Well, I think women deserve better! Those responsible for hosting vast crowds of people on a regular basis need to get a clue. Those city officials who review building plans and event siting proposals need to, as well. It’s not like such mistakes are made without having passed multiple pairs of eyes.

“Ah, yes. I can imagine the excuses already, being formulated by those who lack the ability to hear criticism and take appropriate action. To such persons, I have pre-formulated a response: I am an engineer, I know all about queuing and planning and I don’t want to hear your excuses. Review your processes; make changes; or resign your positions in shame for not being able to anticipate such simple needs.”

Mark LaPointe

Yes, you may contact me for publication purposes, but do not print my contact info:

Please do me the courtesy of telling me when the above will be printed, or if you decline to print it at all.
Thank you!

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3 Responses to A Country Divided—Over Bathrooms!

  1. MNL says:

    Try this website for helpful resources, the American Restroom Association (ARA):

  2. Gayle says:

    I appreciate your fighting on our behalf, Mark. 🙂

  3. Mark LaPointe says:

    Here is an update to my original posting: On November 18th, 2017, the Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) had the blessing of hosting a celebration for the beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey. In anticipation of that event, I wrote to three individuals involved with the planning–one at the AOD, one working with the Capuchin friars, and one in charge of special events at the venue, Ford Field stadium. They differed only slightly from each other in the wording; the letter copied below was sent to the last mentioned. After the event, I wrote a follow up letter to the same individuals. It, too, is copied below. I have obscured only personally identifying information for the recipients as I have no intention to embarrass anyone; rather to promote the issue.
    October 25th, 2017
    Ford Field
    2000 Brush St.
    Detroit, MI 48226
    Attn: __(obscured)___, Event Planning Contact

    Dear __(obscured)__:

    I wish to provoke action from the persons in charge of coordinating Ford Field special event personnel with the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Capuchins in regard to the upcoming Solanus Casey beatification event on Saturday, November 18th. I am greatly concerned we will once again as a society fail to plan enough bathroom capacity for the women who will be in attendance.

    I have written a blog article (printed with photos and enclosed) on what I know of the 80 year history of the problem in general, posted here: http://www.christiancrossfire.org/politics/country-divided-bathrooms.html Simply put, no matter the venue, no matter the time period, men seem oblivious to the problem of serving women with adequate bathroom capacity. Further, the women themselves–friends I have consulted–have a defeatist attitude. Paraphrasing, they tell me, “No I don’t like waiting in line but it’s always been this way and I don’t expect it to change.”

    Now, Ford Field is accustomed to meeting the needs of football fans–with a majority of men in attendance. The Solanus Casey event is going to have a church-going crowd–predictably with a majority of women in attendance. I’m sure the stadium has many, many restrooms for each gender, but it will likely be full to capacity–a crowd not seen since the Superbowl was held in Detroit back in 2006. I fear this esteemed event will be yet another occasion to demonstrate to women that the men in charge simply don’t care.

    There is a simple solution, if people are willing to address it: Close every other Men’s Room with a paper & black marker sign relabeling it for the use of the women; the guys can be redirected to the nearest remaining one of theirs. Thank you in advance for giving this concern and this solution your full consideration.

    Mark LaPointe
    __(obscured)__, Capuchin Event Planning Contact
    __(obscured)__, Archdiocese of Detroit Contact
    December 2, 2017

    To All Parties:
    ___(obscured)____, Ford Field Event Planning Contact
    ___(obscured)____, Capuchin Event Planning Contact
    ___(obscured)____, Archdiocese of Detroit

    Congratulations are in order for a well-executed event, the recent beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey on Saturday, November 18th, 2017, at Ford Field, in Downtown Detroit. I was in attendance and truly enjoyed the experience. I would, however, like to provide you with a final report on the matter of ensuring adequate bathroom capacity. (You will recall my previous individual letters to each of you, attached for your convenience but without the original supplemental enclosures.) I think it only fair to offer this update given the time you have invested in considering / discussing the request.

    To set the context for my observations:
    – I arrived around 2:15 PM for this 4:00 PM event.
    – I had with me PDF maps, printed from the Ford Field website, showing the bathroom locations for the Main Concourse (100’s seating), the Upper Concourse (200’s seating), and the Club Level (for the 200’s seating only).
    – I could not discern any changes to the layout of men’s vs. women’s restrooms so I inquired of three employees: One did not know, but two stated independently no changes were made and that what I saw was how it is for all the football games.
    – My stroll throughout the stadium was easy at first, but nearly impossible closer to start time due to the continuous arrival / movement of the crowds.
    – I walked the lowest Club Level only once, early on. I walked the Upper Concourse only once, early on. I walked my own seating level, the Main Concourse, repeatedly: once early on, once during peak arrival time (from about 3:30 PM to 4:00 PM), and once at the end of the event, around 6:30 PM.
    – Being male, I freely circulated through any men’s restroom I wished. I did not transgress nor even take visual liberties with the women’s restrooms. One’s eyes can only easily see past the outer concourse wall up to the inner concourse wall (i.e., what is visible to people of both genders from the concourse). One cannot see possible line formation closer to the presumed location of stalls.
    – When I saw people standing in line, I had to inspect what it was for (a food vendor, a bathroom, an elevator, an exit, confession, etc.) and whether it was composed of people waiting to use the bathroom themselves or just standing around in loose formation while waiting for someone in their party to finish using the bathroom.
    – I did not personally time how quickly a bathroom line moved if there was one. I only checked to see whether it was moving or was a “real” wait in order to keep circulating around the stadium.
    – Though I had a camera phone and took pictures of the event, I have no photographs of the lines I saw. (a) It would have seemed an odd, pervy thing to do; though I had the justification I didn’t have the nerve. (b) When there was a line for a bathroom, there were other lines in the vicinity for other purposes that would have made the photograph confusing, detracting from its value as “proof.” (c) When there was a line for a bathroom, too many people were in motion in the foreground and background to do a panoramic shot in the poor lighting of the concourse to give context.
    – I asked my female friends, beforehand, to pay attention to this bathroom lines issue. Their feedback is included, below.
    – There was an all-day rain that soaked many guests prior to entry. It might have been a factor in demand for access to the restrooms near the entrances.
    – I estimated 5% to 14% of the seats in my section, #130, were vacant. (That is, in a row of 22 total seats, between one and three seats were never occupied.) If the figure I heard of 66,000 possible attendees was accurate, calculations indicate the true numbers in attendance to have been between 57,000 to 63,000. This compares to an average Lions “home field” game attendance of 64,000 as per 2017 numbers from the website http://www.espn.com/nfl/attendance
    – My apologies, I forgot to estimate the ratio of women to men seated in my section as a possible stressing factor on the stadium’s event planning.

    Observation of bathroom lines:
    – In none of the strolls I took were there ever lines for the men’s bathrooms–neither real waits nor momentary waits.
    – In the early strolls, no lines were observable at the women’s restrooms, either. This began to change as the crowds arrived in number and momentary waits developed into real waits.
    – When my strolls were later confined to the Main Concourse, I observed that the women’s bathrooms AWAY from the entrances never had any lines observable to me. However, the women’s bathrooms NEAR two of the entrances did develop lines while the men’s bathrooms adjacent to them did not.
    – The longest line I found, around 3:50 PM and immediately inside a busy entrance, had 26 women standing in it out past the outer concourse wall. I did not strain to count the ones in line from the outer concourse wall to the inner concourse wall, as it turned and I couldn’t see without difficulty. I estimate, however, an additional 10 to 15 individuals in that space. Further, if the layout of a typical men’s restroom is any basis for comparison, there could have been an additional 10 to 15 women in line for a stall but entirely out of sight from the concourse. These numbers add to indicate about 46 to 56 women in line for that particular restroom.
    – Other lines I found under similar circumstances contained from 3 to 15 individuals waiting in line between the inner concourse wall and the outer concourse wall, making their totals range between 13 and 30.
    – I expected another crush for the bathrooms after the event but it never materialized other than for one group of nuns who were apparently travelling together, thus I ignored it. I did, however, notice many individuals using communion time as a convenient opportunity to visit the restroom before returning to their seats. (The distribution pattern had people ascend to the Main Concourse.)
    – Of the four female friends who got back to me, three had no problems to report while one did wait in a line. This last said her line of about 20 women only took about 5 minutes. My apologies for incomplete data on the times involved. Two who reported no issues went early while the other two are unknowns.
    – Running the numbers on the longest observed bathroom line (46 to 56 women) with the only available estimate of line speed (20 women in 5 minutes) yields a wait time of 11.5 minutes to 14.0 minutes.
    – No observations were made of possible bathroom queuing at Detroit Lions football games for comparison.

    My interpretation of these observations:
    – For the crowds that came to this event, bathroom capacity was acceptable for women most of the time but excellent for men, all the time.
    – Bathroom capacity for a distributed crowd of both genders is adequate even with near-capacity crowds. It was the areas of temporary concentration that were inadequate.
    – More could have been done to prevent queuing at women’s bathrooms near the entrances as part of temporary event planning modification, such as: signage conversion of some men’s bathrooms into women’s bathrooms, arrows with appropriate lettering pointing down the concourse to additional “no line restrooms,” crowd control personnel informing people where to go and directing traffic, etc.
    – It can be noted that the event was under stress from (a) possibly disproportionate numbers of women in attendance, and (b) possibly women taking disproportionately more time in their bathrooms to try to make themselves presentable after entry out of the rain.

    In conclusion, results were pretty good but one can still see the pattern previously identified in my original letter to you: Somehow, designers / planners of bathroom facilities–whether fixed or temporary–commonly make allowance for the needs of men but do not predict well the needs of women.

    I doubt we will ever be in communication about this issue again. But I do hope my two letters have helped raise your awareness of this on-going concern for society. As you progress in the paths of your respective careers to sponsor events, to plan for them, to provide hosting facilities, or to counsel others in regard to any of these, may the experience benefit you and the women who will be among your guests.

    Mark LaPointe

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