© John Hobbie
© John Hobbie
© John Hobbie
© John Hobbie
Integrating Public Toilets in Fixed Urban Environments - Savannah, Georgia USA
StoolBus is for everyone. It is where people need it the most. It takes and gives back to the people. StoolBus is a toilet on wheels, allowing mobility and flexibility that traditional toilets cannot match. Occupying an area as small as a parking space, StoolBus provides a convenient and safe facility, accommodating up to 4 people at a time. It is aimed to minimize environmental footprint while serving its constituents at all levels: from the folks who use the toilet to the agriculture industry who make use of its products, moving everyone closer to a sustainable environmental balance. The StoolBus allows city planners to place toilets where they are needed and when they are needed, bypassing building code requirements. The StoolBus is adaptable to almost any urban landscape, but for this case study Savannah, Georgia is used.
Savannah, Georgia was established in 1733 and has a long history drawing millions of tourists every year. The visitors all come to enjoy historic buildings, parks, cemeteries, and memorials scattered along the river front. But it is because of this long history that Savannah has little room to break new ground for buildings and structures. Nearly all the city’s land is protected for its historic value. This prohibits excavation, trenching and other construction including public toilets.
Currently, there are only four public toilets in all of Savannah’s downtown district to serve fourteen million visitors per year. (SavannahGA.gov, 2022) In the United States all businesses open to the public must make their toilets available for use. (ARA, 2022) This puts a heavy burden on the local restaurants and shops who are accommodating the needs of these tourists. StoolBus is a great solution to overcome building code restrictions by letting the toilets go where they are needed most. So, based upon the parklet movement started in San Francisco (NACTO, 2022), StoolBus is a fully autonomous vehicle that fits within any standard parking space.
2.0 The Need
Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia. The Savannah metropolitan area, Georgia's third largest, had a 2020 population of 404,798. In 2020, Savannah attracted over 14 million visitors to its cobblestone streets, parks, and notable historic buildings. Meanwhile, Savannah has its share of social problems – there are over 4,500 homeless people living in the city, the second highest in the state Georgia (CSAH, 2022). With this high traffic volume, there are currently only 4 public toilets available in downtown Savannah. On average, this equals about 10,000 users per toilet, per day in Savannah.
The United States does not have a set standard for public toilet locations or how many are needed. But the British Toilet Association recommends 1 cubicle per 500 women, 1 urinal per 1100 men, 1 unisex/disability stall per 10,000, and 1 diaper changing facility per 10,000 people. (BTA, 2022) They should be located where most accessible to tourists, commuters, tourists as well as residents. With 14 million visitors per year to Savannah every year, that means 33,000 tourists a day will need a place to go. And in terms of human solid waste, tourists will leave 4.9 metric tons of solid waste every day. (Weisberger, 2018) Using the British standard shown here, an average of 10 StoolBuses would be adequate to handle the daily load in Savannah.
Not only is Savannah a great tourist destination with a need for more public toilets, but it also has a long history of manufacturing fertilizer and was recognized as the second largest fertilizer producer in the world by 1924. So, the secondary purpose of the StoolBus is to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in industrial farming. The StoolBus uses a centralized composting hub waste to offload, compost, and deliver healthy fertilizers to farmers. And at the same time, the composting center cleans and replenishes the StoolBuses.
3.0 The StoolBus
The StoolBus exterior is designed to resemble a typical American school bus - the color, flashing lights, and stop signal all help draw attention to the bus. Its nostalgic, eye-catching, and inviting exterior helps people locate it. These features help to make it easily recognizable. Meanwhile, as more StoolBuses serve more places around the world, their colors and exteriors can easily be changed and adapted to different urban and environmental needs.
But the StoolBus exterior is not just for looks, it is also for security and safety. The StoolBus travels on open roads and is parked at roadsides or parking lots. This minimizes visual obscurity of the toilet structure and enhances security. The entrance to the toilet is on the passenger side of the bus, which naturally provides a clear site-line to high public traffic areas as needed. In addition to high visibility, the exterior lighting complies with vehicle requirements and acts as an alarm should someone need emergency assistance while using the facilities.
The StoolBus is insulated for climate control inside the stalls, vents are installed in the doors so cries of help can be heard outside. These features combined with doors that can be unlocked remotely or by emergency personnel allow for the greatest amount of safety and privacy. Another feature of the StoolBus’ lighting and safety is found in the LCD screen themed as a windscreen. This large screen has multiple functions including wayfinding maps and guides, user and wait time updates, and advertising or event information.
In addition to its “be-anywhere” flexibility and safety features, StoolBus accommodates people of all ages, gender, and physical conditions. And to address gender issues, Sit and Stand terminology and graphics remove gender concerns and speak to what the user’s needs are. Secondly, the tail end stall of the StoolBus is especially designed for wheelchair access. When the StoolBus finds a parking space, it automatically adjusts itself to align with curbs and parking lots. This allows wheelchairs to access the bus without the need for a ramp or wheelchair lift. Instead, a simple platform extends from the passenger side of the bus creating a level and seamless connection to the sidewalk or ground. As an additional safety feature the wheelchair door opens parallel to the side of the StoolBus, not towards the user. Without a door swing radius wheelchair users can open the door and access the stall with no conflicts. And the interior space of the wheelchair stall is large enough for a normal size chair to make a full 180-degree turn. The elderly will also be able to use the wheelchair space with ease. Since the wheelchair stall is level with its surroundings there is no need to climb steps when entering the stall. This is not the case with the other stalls.
The StoolBus interior is full of features that add to its resiliency, safety, and sanitation. The most notable safety feature is the StoolBus’ air conditioning. Heat is the number one cause of weather-related deaths. (NWS, 2022) As anyone knows who has touched a car sitting out in full sun, the metal can burn. But worse still, children and the elderly are very quick to be overwhelmed by hot weather. In fact, an average of 38 children a year die in the USA after being left in hot vehicles. These deaths are entirely preventable. For this reason, the StoolBus has insulated walls and forced cool air offering shelter from hot weather.
Blue colored lighting and a light blue interior are not only a complementary color balance to the StoolBus exterior, but they are also a safety feature. Blue light prevents intravenous drug users from finding a vein but does not prevent insulin users from injecting their lifesaving medications in private. However, the StoolBus does come with a needle drop. Discouraging illegal drug use while providing safe ways to dispose of needles helps to ensure a safer environment for everyone.
Hygiene is emphasized in the StoolBus in several ways. First, the StoolBus is fully washed and fitted with fresh supplies every time it returns to the composting center. This return happens at least once a day by default, or when the StoolBus is full and needs to be emptied. The interior walls of each stall are seamless formed surfaces. Without cracks and seams, grime and grunge cannot get trapped. This makes it very easy to use a high-pressure spray and automatically clean the interior space. By using enzyme-based cleaners during the spray wash, beneficial bacteria are introduced into the StoolBus septic tank beginning the composting process. Second, ultraviolet light is activated inside the stalls when the space is not occupied. UV light kills germs and sanitizes surfaces. With so many clean practices in place parents won’t be concerned to use the baby changing table installed in every stall. And finally, each toilet uses a dry toilet compost system to remove waste. But for the sake of odor, the toilet periodically flushes itself. Flush water is part of a filtered grey water system recycled from the sink basin. Flushing is not required for sanitation necessarily, but it does improve comfort by reducing unpleasant odors.
User experience is also taken into consideration and special considerations are evident in the graphics, Sit or Stand, that identify each stall and informs the user of what’s inside each stall. Every stall has a sink with non-potable water for hand washing. Air hand-dryers remove the need for paper towels and keeps the stalls’ garbage bins clearer. Every stall has a mirror with wrap-around vanity lighting, toilet paper dispenser, needle drop and sanitary disposal. The wheelchair stall is level with the surroundings, but non-disabled stalls require a 20cm step up to enter the space. This step requirement allows for the septic tanks to ride under the StoolBus carriage. The “standing” stall has a single urinal inset into the wall with a low front lip extending into the space. This low lip allows small boys to be capable of urinating into the receptacle. StoolBus strives to serve everyone with a clean and comfortable space to find relief.
3.3 Additional Support
The composting center is critical to the StoolBus cycle. It serves to clean the bus with an automatic pressure wash, refill all dispensables and empty all rubbish and biohazard bins, as well as recharge its power supply and complete any required maintenance. And of course, the composting center serves to empty the StoolBus of its waste.
Human waste is a perfect compost material if the composting process is fully complete. And Savannah tourists produce 5 metric tons a day. Georgia leads the United States in peanuts, pecans, and peaches. (Moore, 2021) It is also responsible for using large amounts of chemical fertilizers which harm the planet. (Davies, 2021) Transitioning the fertilizer industry to a composting would go a long way to making our world safer and healthier.
While StoolBus is designed with the city of Savannah in mind, its concept is applicable to a variety of urban locations around the world. Real estate scarcity is often a constraint for erecting public toilet structures within city limits. Developed or historical areas may have limitations for road and plumbing works, making any permanent toilet structure a challenge. The mobile and compact nature of StoolBus help mitigate these architectural concerns. In addition to parking lots, StoolBus can be placed easily in parking spaces, parking lots and other venues where people gather. It can be where it is needed the most, where the people are.
5.0 Works Cited
ARA. (2022, November 21). Restroom Access Act (Ally’s Law). Retrieved from American Restroom Association: https://americanrestroom.org/restroom-access-act-allys-law/
BTA. (2022, November 21). Why do we need more and better toilets? Retrieved from British Toilet Association: http://www.btaloos.co.uk/
CSAH. (2022, November 21). About Homelessness. Retrieved from Chatham Savannah GA Authority For The Homeless: https://www.homelessauthority.org/
Davies, E. (2021, July 21). Harmful Effects of Chemical Fertilizers on Human Health. Retrieved from Drug Watcher: https://www.drugwatcher.org/bad-health-effects-of-fertilizers/
Moore, J. (2021, July 29). Georgia: A Peach of an Agricultural State. Retrieved from U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2019/10/17/georgia-peach-agricultural-state
NACTO. (2022, November 21). Urban Street Design Guide. Retrieved from National Association of City Transportation Officials: https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/interim-design-strategies/parklets/
NWS. (2022, November 21). Weather Related Fatality and Injury Statistics. Retrieved from National Weather Service: https://www.weather.gov/hazstat/
SavannahGA.gov. (2022, November 21). Public Restroom Facilities. Savannah, Georgia, USA. Retrieved from Savannah, Georgia: https://www.savannahga.gov/DocumentCenter/View/32/CityPublicRestrooms?bidId=
Weisberger, M. (2018, March 21). How Much Do You Poop in Your Lifetime? Retrieved from Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/61966-how-much-you-poop-in-lifetime.html#:~:text=The%20amount%20of%20poo%20produced%20by%20a%20single,time%20would%20be%20about%206%20lbs.%20%282.8%20kilograms%29.