NY Restroom MapCan the wireless web find you a loo? Not yet, as far as I can tell.

In a complete, compact community, you ought to be able to find a restroom promptly, as I’ve said. That’s a requisite of strong communities as basic as—if less morally stirring than—say, the rule of law or the protection of dissent. So it’s discouraging to read yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer report that Seattle’s experimental high-end automatic public toilets have become pit stops for vice rather than, well, just pit stops.

Surely, however, in the era of wireless web, in which overwhelming majorities of northwesterners carry cell phones and majorities of cell phones are equipped for internet access, it should be easier than it’s ever been for ordinary people to find an emptying station within a short walk of wherever they happen to be. Expensive city-built commodes shouldn’t be as necessary, thanks to what we used to call the information superhighway. Right?

  • You’d think. But so far, the Internet has made no dent in the find-a-bathroom challenge of Cascadia’s urban life. At least, no dent that I’ve detected. I’ve been looking on and off since my family decided to go without a car seven months ago and, as a result, began spending more time out and about in town.

    Granted, bathroom-location is not exactly a crisis for most people, most of the time, and the situation may be improving. The public bathroom supply may have increased, for example, along with the Northwest’s count of coffee shops. (Public bathroom demand, you may be thinking, has probably followed precisely the same trajectory.)

    Still, it’s a sign of, well, something that when you’re afoot in the Northwest’s most-walkable neighborhoods, it may be more difficult to find a nearby toilet than to find, say, a thorough history of the toilet. (I just found wikipedia’s in 30 seconds on my Palm Treo, using Google Mobile. When I tried to use Google Local to find a restroom near where I am in downtown Seattle, however, I struck out entirely.)

    The toilet-map blackout is almost complete in Cascadia. But don’t blame the good Samaritans at Findatoilet.com, which aims to become a universal source of GPS coordinates for restrooms—all of them located and uploaded by regular people, wiki-style. It currently only pinpoints a few highway rest areas, apparently for lack of participation. (I don’t feel bad; I don’t have a GPS.)

    A few other places are starting to close the toilet-map gap. San Francisco has Public Loos, a Google map mash-up, and New York is the proud home of www.nyrestroom.com, complete with locations, photos, and ratings of 252 washrooms so far. (Noted in the New Yorkerhere, with—what would you expect?–tongue-in-cheek superiority.)

    Among the scores of software tools available for road warriors sporting Blackberries and the like, I’ve found only one product that promises to tell you where you can pee. It’s Vindigo (tip of the hat to jennifernb, in comments here) an online map for the wireless web. Unfortunately, Vindigo won’t run on my brand of phone, so I can’t say if it delivers.

    And so, I’m still waiting, my fingers (legs?) crossed, pining for the killer ap of car-less life: a google for toilets.