Pissed Off

Pioneer Square Neighbors Have a Problem with Public Urination

Pissed Off

George Pfromm

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It's no surprise to anyone familiar with Pioneer Square that the neighborhood has a piss problem. And, depending on who you talk to, it's getting worse. "It's like a yellow tide that washes over the neighborhood during game days at the stadiums," says resident Richard Todd, "or leaves its high-water mark under the viaduct on rainy days. It's definitely smelly and definitely a growing problem."

While it's impossible to measure the exact trend of public urination, some neighbors say it has increased due to Sounders games gaining popularity, and they fear more game fans will bring more piss now that the Huskies are using CenturyLink Field.

But it's a problem not easily solved, residents say, thanks to a lack of obvious public restrooms and an ever-changing influx of tailgating sports fans, tourists, weekend clubgoers, bar patrons, and homeless people lining up for the area's soup kitchens and other social services.

"There's been a perception that the problem is only with low-income people, but the larger issue is with people who don't live here," explains Anne Fennessy, a public affairs consultant who's lived in Pioneer Square on and off for the last 15 years. "I've seen men in business suits, people of all socioeconomic circumstances, doing bad things in the square. The bottom line is people don't know where to go and they think [public urination] is tolerated. So we, as a neighborhood, have to say that's not okay."

Which is why Fennessy has teamed up with a small group of like-minded property and business owners to Febreze the shit out of Pioneer Square's piss-logged image.

So far, their solutions have been simple but effective: Last summer, the group released an updated tourist map identifying the few public restrooms in the neighborhood's train and ferry terminals and City Hall. Other residents have reclaimed alleys like Nord Alley to use for public art and social spaces, which keeps them from becoming impromptu restrooms. And last fall, the group contacted the Seattle Seahawks to ask the team to provide 15 porta-potties outside the stadium on game days for tailgaters.

"Once they brought those porta-potties in, it reduced human waste in the square by a third," Fennessy says. But the problem persists.

Workers for the Metropolitan Improvement District, which tracks human waste (among other factors) in the downtown area, report that deposits of human waste are still an ongoing issue in Pioneer Square, downtown, and Belltown. They reported seeing 36 acts of public urination and cleaning up 1,211 piles of human waste in the last few months. (Obviously, downtown and Belltown have "high tides" of their own.)

Already, pissing and shitting in public is a ticketable offense; however, neighbors say police resources are spread thin in Pioneer Square, and cops are reluctant to crack down on public evacuators when restrooms are spread few and far between.

"We need more public restrooms," Todd says, stating the obvious. He jokes: "One every five feet or so would do the trick. Maybe with neon arrows pointing the way—real flashy, Vegas shit."

And it might finally happen (minus the neon lights). Thanks to the neighborhood group's diligent groundwork, "the city is listening," says Fennessy. They're currently exploring a number of options with city officials, including opening up another set of public restrooms in nearby Fire Station 10, following Portland's lead and installing a few of its patented Portland Loos, or even building a concierge facility in the square "with boccie balls and public restrooms—the works," she says.

In addition, the city is exploring an idea that would allow cops to ticket public pissers with a more socially equitable, fine-free consequence, like community service. Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn, phrases the solution in bureaucratic terms to avoid uttering the word "piss," saying: "The city is in the very early stages of a restorative justice pilot that would work with neighborhood stakeholders on supporting Pioneer Square."

It can't come soon enough.

"Living downtown, you have to love people, but you don't have to lower your standards on what's acceptable," Fennessy says. "We always ask police and fire department people, 'Would you accept this in Wallingford?' And they say, 'No!' Then why is it acceptable here?"


Comments (20) RSS

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Madge 1
Wait a minute. This seems to me to be as much a problem with male behavior and entitlement as it is a lack of public restrooms. There are no doubt women who occasionally relieve themselves in public, but overall this is behavior that men engage in simply because "they can". I have frequented all of these neighborhoods and yet I have never been unable to wait until I found a restroom, and I can guarantee that is true of every woman I know.
Perhaps a long-term solution might be found in toilet-training with an expectation that the comode will actually be used. In the meantime I suggest adult-diaper vending machines.
Posted by Madge on March 21, 2012 at 12:33 PM · Report this
My first job in Seattle was as a security guard at the Brand Spanking New Benaroya Hall.

The building had only been open for a few weeks and the media was still ooohing and aaahing about it. It certainly is one of the most beautiful concert halls ever built. And of course, it is patronized by Seattle's wealthier citizens.

I was at the guard desk checking in musicians for the evening's performance. A disheveled woman came in and asked to use the restroom. I tried to be polite, but firm, and let her know that our restrooms were for symphony patrons only.

There was no begging. No pleading. She just dropped her pants right there in the lobby and left a giant shit on the carpet. A bassoon player was damn close to hitting the pile!

I learned pretty quickly that sometimes you just gotta let people use the bathroom, rules-be-damned.
Posted by David in Shoreline on March 21, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Report this
Texas10R 3
According to the Stranger, "While it's impossible to measure the exact trend of public urination..."

According to Anne Fennessy, "Once [the Seattle Seahawks] brought those porta-potties in, it reduced human waste in the square by a third."

It can't actually be BOTH, can it?

Either way, clean, SAFE facilities should be required for any high-density public space at which massive amounts of beverages are consumed on the go. When I moved downtown in 1991, it was quickly obvious that very little thought had been given to the issue of facilities in Convention Place station or anywhere else downtown. People visiting from Europe are amazed at our crude approach to urban living. And why would they not be? It's pretty fucking third-world.
Posted by Texas10R on March 21, 2012 at 1:45 PM · Report this
I travel all the way from Bremerton to drink beer and piss in Pioneer Square- this is an outrage!
Posted by TaterBug on March 21, 2012 at 3:57 PM · Report this
doloresdaphne 5
There's always the Dutch option;…
Posted by doloresdaphne on March 21, 2012 at 4:43 PM · Report this
If you don't like public urination, stop walking your dog.
Posted by Bobito on March 22, 2012 at 9:42 AM · Report this
It's my impression that the city is considering reopening public restrooms on the Waterfall Garden facing side of SFD HQ, rather than Fire Station 10.

The two (SFD HQ & Station 10) used to be one and the same, but a new Fire Station 10 was constructed a few blocks away several years ago.
Posted by NickS on March 22, 2012 at 12:28 PM · Report this
I used to have a dog that would always piss on the same part of the carpet every time I turned my back. I asked the vet what it was about that particular patch of carpet that made the dog want to piss just there. The answer was that after the first time, it just smelled like the place to go.

The lesson for Pioneer Square is this: If your neighborhood looks like shit, people will treat it like a toilet. Adding bathrooms isn't really the solution. Cleaning up the shit-hole (<- literally) is.
Posted by highside on March 22, 2012 at 3:47 PM · Report this
stinkbug 9
Here's a 1978 article from the Times that's basically about the same thing:

""Pioneer Square just one big bathroom"…

Posted by stinkbug on March 23, 2012 at 12:08 AM · Report this
slade 10
Some people are to stupid and disrespectful to piss in a bush tree or behind a dumpster or at least in a ally? they piss in door ways and poop in door ways and As Seattle gos its the Army of two legged Bugs that the City fails to deal with from time to time that "IS" the problem.

Drug addicts with no support or brains left.

Million dollar stainless steel self cleaning poopers were just drug dealers and rapist dens same as the bus stops were until they took the seats out of all of them.

Its the Party district or the urine district as it was put on the Simpsons last night so some tiny bit of logic and wisdom needs to be deployed to make it safe and clean and on a budget so you know people will be knocking you down and pissing on your face for decades to come in the Urine District.
Posted by slade on March 23, 2012 at 10:42 AM · Report this
Responsibility rests on beer sellers to provide sanitary restroom facilities.

Deploring consistent drunkards is more entertaining.
Posted by Wells on March 23, 2012 at 8:14 PM · Report this
Could part of this problem be also the pervasiveness of no use of the bathroom without a purchase policy? Perhaps, rather then the city paying to develop further public facilities, they should provide a tax incentive for businesses that make a comittment to allowing the public to use their space? Even a high value voucher would be cheaper and create resources more quickly then building a few additional areas.
Posted by It's also a community hospitality issue on March 24, 2012 at 11:02 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 13
LOL!! The times I have had to take a piss in the alley's of Pioneer Square!! Too many to count.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on March 25, 2012 at 1:26 PM · Report this
No purchase no pisser = me pissing on your window. 'sup Jimmy Johns ?!! Cops were too busy dum dum, just let me pee...

Posted by gottago on March 25, 2012 at 8:20 PM · Report this
Slam1263 15
So, maybe the city can buy back their $1,000,000 toilets that they sold on Ebay a few years back.

That worked out well.
Posted by Slam1263 on March 25, 2012 at 10:40 PM · Report this
slade 16
I guess the Cartoon would be the City of Seattle council and Mayor McGrimm with their legs crossed holding a piss and the caption would be "Oh My Gosh! I got to pee and I don't know what to do! Help!"
Posted by slade on March 26, 2012 at 10:30 AM · Report this
Sorry to hear of the defiling of Pioneer Square. We honeymooned in Oregon in 1992 and I don't remember human waste being a feature of the square back then. Here in Austin we have s similar problem in the alleys and open spaces of the 6th Street district. I work in an office building on 6th and the public stairwell of the parking garage seems to be a favorite watering hole so to speak of the drunk and/or homeless set. Particularly during SXSW. Good to hear Portland is getting a handle on the problem. It seems Austin, once again, could learn a thing or two from Portland.
Posted by Welshdog on March 26, 2012 at 6:22 PM · Report this
Cascade Citizen 18
Last I checked the fine for a human shitting in public is less than that for a dog.…
Posted by Cascade Citizen on March 27, 2012 at 7:44 AM · Report this
slade 19
You can ride your bike nude in the nude bike run and run in your underwear in the underwear run and police have told me you can expose yourself as long as its not sexually motivated and as well you can take a big ol old fashion mega shit on your favorite welcome mat and the police really wont care as they do not like investigating C.S.I?

"Crap Scene Investigators" Seattle. Poop patrol Unit? Crap Intelligence Agency?
Posted by slade on March 27, 2012 at 1:02 PM · Report this
watchout5 20
@1 while I'll admit it's likely a heavily male dominated sport (pissing in public) I've seen plenty of vajayjays take a squat and go to town. Sure, males should bear the brunt of this accusation but girls get drunk and use the bathroom inappropriately too FYI.
Posted by watchout5 on April 12, 2012 at 2:20 AM · Report this

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