Need for clean public washrooms key lesson from COVID-19, Edmonton businesses say

Cleaner public washrooms are high on the wish list of Edmonton’s business groups as the city recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, said the fallout was apparent last March when Edmonton public libraries and city facilities shut down, and in turn, cut off the bathroom facilties.  

“It was very clear that a lack of washrooms was one of the most immediately harmful impacts of the pandemic on downtown,” McBryan said during a council executive committee meeting Monday.

The city placed porta-potties in key areas while city facilities are closed but McBryan noted this temporary replacement plan runs only until October.

“It’s a huge need,” McBryan said in an interview with CBC Monday afternoon. 

“There are the LRT washrooms — there’s a few but they’re, just to be totally blunt about it, they’re kind of gross and scary.” 

In late 2019, the city paid for attendants to monitor, clean and stock the public washrooms on Whyte Avenue and Churchill Square.

Attendants help keep the washrooms clean and safer, McBryan said. 

“These washrooms need to be staffed,” McBryan said. “It’s something that simply needs to be funded and much more widely available across our BIAs.” 

The city’s website shows there are about 50 public washrooms in various facilities such as arenas, libraries and parks. 

As of Monday evening, the city didn’t have an update on when it planned to add more attendants to washrooms, but when it first hired staff in 2019, the city paid $36,000. 

The DBA is one of 13 business improvement areas that were on hand during the meeting to discuss 2020 annual reports and priorities for the coming years. 

Jay Ball, executive director of the Alberta Avenue Business Association, said they also appreciate the public washroom facilities.

“There is need for more,” Ball said. “They are very well used.” 

Ball said Alberta Avenue is working on helping businesses recover from the pandemic — a large portion of them restaurants and cafes. 

He said campaigns such as “Eats on 118,” are in the works to draw diners back to the avenue. 

“Our summer is going to be very very strong,” Ball said.  

Cherie Klassen, chair of the BIA council and executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, told councillors that clean vibrant streets will attract people back in a post-COVID-19 environment. 

“Our public realm isn’t as welcoming as we need it to be,” Klassen said. “Some of these maintenance issues need to be addressed now.” 

Paving stones on sidewalks, benches and light poles need repairs, she noted, and the BIAs are asking for a standard of maintenance across the board. 

The BIAs are also working on more walkable, pedestrian-friendly zones. 

The Old Strathcona Business Association expanded the sidewalks along both sides of Whyte Avenue this season, between 103rd and 105th streets. 

The OSBA and the city expanded the sidewalk last year to respond to the need for more space during COVID-19 physical distancing rules. 

At the end of the pilot last year, the OSBA surveyed businesses and patrons on what they thought of the expanded sidewalks. 

“What we heard was pretty overwhelming support to bring them back at least seasonally if not permanently,” Klassen said. 

The BIAs are working on a collective strategic proposal for the city, to outline where they think the city could help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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