Reflecting a Community Need: San Francisco Unveils New Public Toilets
In partnership with the JCDecaux street furniture company, Public Works is ushering in a new generation of public toilets in San Francisco with the first one installed at Embarcadero Plaza in time for the holiday season and a post-pandemic rebirth of the City.
San Francisco has benefited from a collaboration with JCDecaux since 1994, when the original forest-green Art Nouveau-style toilets and advertising kiosks were placed on City sidewalks. As part of the recent, 20-year negotiated agreement, JCDecaux is replacing – one-for-one – these aging amenities with updated and more efficient designs.
Workers remove the old JCDecaux toilet at The Embarcadero to make way for the new model.
Beginning at Embarcadero Plaza, the old toilets are being replaced with a new model that has more efficient and effective cleaning systems, as well as better lighting that includes a skylight to bring in daylight from above and a rain-water collection network that supports routine washing.
A skylight allows natural, diffused lighting in to provide a more pleasant experience when using the public toilet.
Their mechanical systems have been upgraded. The toilets self-clean after every use and the hand-washing system is stronger and more energy-efficient. As before, the public toilets will be accessible to people with disabilities and connected directly to City sewer, water and electrical lines.
A behind-the-scenes look at the self-cleaning process for the toilet.
As part of the partnership, Public Works made sure that the 25 JCDecaux toilets come at no cost to the City. JCDecaux underwrites the full cost of the design, manufacturing, installation and daily maintenance of the public toilets and in return is granted the right to install 114 sidewalk advertising kiosks throughout downtown, the Financial District and popular tourist areas.
In addition, JCDecaux will pay $2.2 million a year for staffing at approximately 11 of the toilets as part of Public Works’ Pit Stop program where an attendant is on hand to ensure the toilets are kept safe, clean and operational for their intended use.
Jodi Watt, Lead Supervisor for the Civic Pit Stop program, tests out the integrated seating designed for attendants.
Locations of the existing 25 JCDecaux public toilets.
The new toilets, as well as the updated advertising kiosks, will be located in the same locations as the original amenities. The public toilets are in diverse locations, including Embarcadero Plaza, Civic Center Plaza, Twin Peaks, the 16th Street and 24th Street BART stations and the Castro.
“These public toilets provide bathroom access for our residents and visitors, alike,” said interim Public Works Director Carla Short. “They are clean and safe, and these updated street amenities reflect our San Francisco values as we invest in a public realm designed to promote dignity, inclusivity and beauty. We also recognize they are an important tool to help us maintain sidewalk cleanliness while also providing people with bathrooms that are inviting and sanitary.”
The current 25 toilets collectively averaged 710,968 flushes annually over the past five years. But after more than 20 years on the sidewalks, the old public toilets are ready to be retired: the mechanical systems are outdated, with replacement parts difficult to procure, and the materials are degraded. Once the original agreement between the City and JCDecaux expired, a Request for Proposals was released to identify the next public toilet vendor. JCDecaux was chosen in a competitive bidding process to manufacture San Francisco’s new public toilets.
The first of the newly designed toilets is installed and is now being tested at Embarcadero Plaza, across from the Ferry Building. The location was chosen because it is at the confluence of locals, commuters and tourists gathering – and adjacent to a vibrant public space.
The toilet's texture and curvature were a fundamental design feature that allows the new model to reflect its surroundings.
Here, the palm trees and Ferry Building at The Embarcadero provide a nice complement.
Open for public use during a testing period of up to 60 days, the feedback will be used to troubleshoot any mechanical problems that may emerge. After the testing, the first toilet will remain in place at Embarcadero Plaza and the remaining 24 toilets will be manufactured and then installed.
SmithGroup, a national design firm with a robust San Francisco office, was chosen as the winner of an invitation-only competition to redesign the public toilets and multi-function advertising kiosks.
“The new toilets are unique to San Francisco, with a design that blends sculpture and technology to create a cleaner, safer and more hygienic experience,” said Bill Katz, design principal with SmithGroup. “With their modeled stainless-steel surface, they will literally reflect our diverse city neighborhoods and their deep-rooted history while creating sculptural street furniture.”
The design of the new toilets and kiosks complements the contemporary and elegant designs of the BART portals on Market Street and the café kiosk at Civic Center Plaza at Larkin and Grove streets. SmithGroup’s design for the toilets and kiosks were reviewed and approved by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the City’s Historic Preservation Commission.
JCDecaux Executive Vice President Francois Nion shares the design manual for the new public toilet.
Because the toilets and kiosks are intended to be used for the next 20 years, they need to be not only timeless in their design but also built and maintained to withstand decades of public use.
An engineer from JCDecaux checks the alignment of the hood on the new public toilet.
In addition to serving as a platform for advertising, 10 of the 114 kiosks will house micro-retail establishments, such as newspaper stands, coffee vendors and artists, and another 15 will include interactive screens with public service announcements and wayfinding information. The advertising on the kiosks will offset JCDecaux’s capital costs for the toilets and the operating costs for the program. There will be no advertising on the public toilets.
In a partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission, 40 of the advertising kiosks along Market Street will include public art posters by local artists.
“We are excited to be working collaboratively with both San Francisco Public Works and the project team from SmithGroup,” said J. Francois Nion, chief operating officer of JCDecaux San Francisco. “Together we have developed the next generation of street amenities, which will be supported by a strong maintenance program that will better serve San Franciscans and visitors alike.”
The 25 JCDecaux public toilets are on City land in the public right of way, under Public Works’ jurisdiction or on property managed by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the Port of San Francisco.
Just installed, the new toilet is ready for use.
A gash on the ceiling of the Broadway Tunnel looms over our crews while they work to assess and repair the damage.
Gets Quick Response
Without warning, a flat-bed truck towing a too-tall telescopic boom ripped open the tiled ceiling of the Broadway Tunnel’s eastbound bore, creating a zipper-like fissure about 100 feet long and leaving behind a big pile of debris.
Responders from the City's fire and police departments work
to remove the truck that damaged the ceiling.
The good news is that no one was injured in the Nov. 14 incident when large chunks of damaged ceiling poured down on the roadway below. The Public Works team, involving different but well-coordinated divisions of our department, jumped into action quickly. They shut down the eastbound lanes to clean up the mess and to assess the damage caused by the truck operated by a private outfit.
Our sheet metal worker Charles Reynolds removes broken tile to make the area safe for people who drive, walk and bike through the area.
Our City Engineer and structural engineers from the Public Works Infrastructure Design and Construction Division examined the tunnel for any structural damage that could pose a safety hazard. None was found. As that was going on, our street cleaning crews from Operations cleared the rubble.
Debris from the work to remove the broken tile.
The next day, our Bureau of Building and Street Repair crews arrived to continue the make-safe work. A team of electricians, sheet metal workers, stationary engineers and general laborers was brought in to remove the remaining tile that had been damaged. That job was completed over two days and our crews were able to work around the commute hours to minimize the impact on the public and keep at least one lane open most times.
Our crews shut down the eastbound section of the tunnel to remove the broken tiles.
Our staff responded to this emergency situation swiftly and with great expertise. Now that the tunnel has been made safe, our Structural Engineering and Bureau of Building and Street Repair teams are conferring on next steps for a more permanent solution, looking at whether to put in new ceiling tile or fashion a different covering.
This is a conceptual rendering of the proposed mixed-use development in the Mission District – the final design is far from complete.
Affordable Housing and Public Transit May Be the Right Match
San Francisco took an important step forward this month in the planned development of a unique mixed-use development that aspires to build hundreds of units of affordable housing on top of a working bus yard – fulfilling two critical needs in the City’s dense urban environment.
“There’s no other project like it in the world; this would be the first of its kind,” said Tim Kempf, a Public Works’ project manager who is helping to usher through the proposed development. “It will allow us to rethink the realm of possibilities regarding how we utilize public land.”
Known as the Potrero Yard Modernization Project, the initiative would replace the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 107-year-old, seismically vulnerable Potrero Bus Yard with a modern, higher-capacity three-story transit facility to maintain and store a fleet of electric buses. Subject to feasibility and financial analysis, up to 575 rental units for residents with low and moderate incomes may occupy the seven stories above.
This conceptual rendering shows the possibility of building housing atop a bus maintenance facility.
The 4.4-acre property is bounded by 17th, Hampshire, Mariposa and Bryant streets in the Mission District.
The SFMTA Board of Directors this month awarded the project’s predevelopment agreement to the Potrero Neighborhood Collective, which will serve as the lead developer. The team is led by Plenary, an investor and developer of public infrastructure, and features veteran San Francisco affordable housing and housing developers Mission Economic Development Agency, Young Community Developers, Tabernacle Community Development Corporation and Presidio Development Partners.
As project manager, Public Works is tasked with keeping everyone on track to advance the project through the complex development phases, including feasibility analysis, design, financing, the final housing unit count and mix, building materials and environmental mitigation measures.
Currently, project design is only about 5% complete.
“We’re still at the very early stages,” said Kempf, the Public Works project manager. “But we reached an important milestone with the predevelopment agreement to move this project forward.”
The team is working toward a goal of completing the project in 2027.
Apprentice Marcus Conley on the job in the Financial District.
to Care for Our City
Marcus Conley hopped out of his Public Works pickup early one recent morning, grabbed a broom and shovel from the bed of his truck, and cleaned up a ribbon of leaves lining a curb lane in the Financial District.
That was easy work compared to his first day on the job a week earlier as a new environmental service worker apprentice. He was part of a Public Works crew dispatched to the Tenderloin to clean up after a woman gave birth on the sidewalk.
“You see everything,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t believe it.”
Conley is one of 13 apprentices we recently onboarded in partnership with Local 261 of the Laborers Union. Over the next three years, he and others in his cohort each will receive 4,000 hours of on-the-job training – cleaning San Francisco’s streets, sidewalks and plazas, removing graffiti, digging trenches and supporting our asphalt and concrete crews. They’ll learn cleaning techniques, the proper use of tools and how to load and unload debris and materials. The training also includes 672 additional hours of supplemental instruction at the Northern California Laborers Center in San Ramon in the East Bay.
The new environmental service worker apprentices ready to start their 4,000-hour training program.
Initially, two apprentices have been assigned to each of our six street cleaning zones; the Special Projects team gets one apprentice. Apprentices will rotate to new assignments in the different Operations bureaus every three months. For now, Conley is assigned to the zone that covers the Tenderloin, South of Market and downtown. Before he landed an apprenticeship, he, like most of the others in his group, came from the ranks of 9916 public service aides, our most entry-level position of block sweepers. Apprentices who successfully complete the 3-year training will have the experience required to qualify for a General Laborer position.
“My goal,” said Conley, who grew up in the Bayview, “is to go all the way up to the top, be director one day. That’s why I love Public Works, it gives you opportunities to build a career.”
Marcus Conley hopes to rise through the ranks and build a career at Public Works.
Christopher McDaniels, who oversees the Public Works street cleaning bureau, said there are plenty of examples of employees rising through the ranks at Public Works and making good careers. These entry-level jobs give people an opportunity to gain the experience needed to move up. “It’s not always about where you are,” McDaniels said, “it’s where you want to be.”
The joint Public Works/Local 261 environmental service worker apprentice program had been on pause for a few years while details were worked out between the department and the union, and because of the COVID pandemic. Now that the first cohort is underway, we hope to start a second cohort early next year. Not only does the apprenticeship program provide job opportunities for people who have faced barriers to employment, but it also trains people for vital jobs to keep San Francisco clean, safe and beautiful.
“I really like the work, taking care of the City,” Conley said. “It’s nice seeing the good we do.”
The California Academy of Sciences’ green roof showcases the City’s commitment to sustainable building design.
Leading on LEED –
How Our Green City Doubles Down on Sustainability
When Ritha Rivas and her colleagues go to green building conferences around the country and attendees find out that they work for the City and County of San Francisco, they are often met with a sense of reverence.
“‘Ohhh, the green city’” is often the reaction from others, said Rivas, an architectural associate who is part of the green building committee at Public Works’ Bureau of Architecture. They know, she said, that with San Francisco being a leader in sustainability, there’s a higher level of compliance that has to be met to build in the City. That also means added responsibility.
“We have a bit of a reputation,” added Eden Brukman, a senior environmental specialist with the San Francisco Environment Department, who also is a member of the committee.
That reputation is earned. The City’s commitment to sustainability has been interlaced with its built environment for more than a decade.
A playful Keith Haring sculpture welcomes visitors to Moscone Center,
the first convention center in the nation to achieve LEED Platinum status.
In 2005, the City’s first policy related to “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” – the world’s most widely used green building rating system, more commonly known as LEED – went into effect. Since then, 86 municipal LEED certifications, totaling more than 11 million square feet of built space, were completed.
“Referencing LEED in our codes is a great way for us to maintain expectations, standardize language and reduce redundancy for project teams to track compliance in multiple ways,” Brukman said. “It also gives us an indication from the global community of where the priorities lie.”
In 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit focused on environmentally friendly building and design, launched LEED, a compilation of recognized standards and original guidelines drafted by global experts for the building sector to implement leading best practices toward sustainability.
Since then, LEED certification has become the most recognizable standard bearer in the world of sustainable building and design. The goal is that by adhering to LEED guidelines, buildings can save money, improve efficiency, lower emissions and foster healthier environments for occupants and the surrounding communities.
The green roof at the science academy supports native plants and helps regulate the building's interior temperature.
“We have a history of integrating into our codes – both the San Francisco Green Building Code and the Municipal Green Building Requirements – very specific references to the LEED-rating system,” Brukman said.
To achieve LEED certification, projects earn points by adhering to credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. The projects also have to comply with prerequisites – minimum project performance expectations in a variety of impact areas.
The more points a project earns, the higher its LEED rating:
Certified (40-49 points)
In San Francisco, municipal construction projects 10,000 square feet or larger must achieve at least LEED Gold. The City also requires all new construction and major renovations to be 100% electrified – which means no more natural gas appliances or utilities, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
While San Francisco isn't alone in requiring LEED certification for certain projects, many other cities use LEED Silver as the minimum standard, Brukman said. Some have higher square footage thresholds and others don't use LEED at all.
For the City’s non-municipal buildings, the threshold for LEED certification requirement is at 25,000 square feet.
Moscone Center utilizes solar power, recycled water and other measures to promote environmental sustainability.
“So we're more stringent for projects by City departments or located on City property,” Brukman said.
To be sure, LEED certifications and the City’s associated thresholds aren’t the sole driver of sustainability measures in San Francisco. A layered set of green building codes and regulations makes sure nothing falls through the cracks.
“Even projects that are not going to pursue LEED certification – because they are below the 10,000-square-foot threshold or may be too narrow in scope or are defined as maintenance work – must still comply with the other sustainability requirements in the City’s codes,” said Rivas.
The LEED credit categories run the gamut from accessibility to public transit and reducing pollution from construction activities to protecting and restoring habitat. The ways builders and designers achieve sustainable projects are equally as diverse.
More efficient toilet fixtures earn points because they help reduce water usage. Solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations tap into renewable energy and contribute toward LEED certification. Better ventilation creates a safer, healthier environment for occupants – and notches points for the project. So does using materials – from paints to adhesives and sealants – with low volatile organic compounds. (An example is the ubiquitous “new car smell” – a sign that the materials used are actually emitting harmful gases.)
And while energy efficiency still plays a large role in achieving LEED certification, San Francisco also is paying attention to the source of the energy – as evidenced by the move away from natural gas.
“Ideally, a building is really efficient and uses clean, renewable energy,” Brukman said, adding that while LEED has credits for both of those aspects, the City also has policy that often pushes beyond LEED.
A movement also is afoot to consider the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the various life cycles of a product or process, known as embodied carbon. For a building this might mean thinking about the diesel-powered excavator that is being deployed during construction or the materials that are being used, said Brukman.
“We want to reduce embodied carbon impacts of construction,” she said, adding that the City is working on code updates to accomplish this. “And to do that we need to understand the processes and energy sources associated with everything from extraction of raw materials to their manufacture, transport, installation, maintenance and end-of-life scenarios.”
A bird’s-eye of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
From the recently finished Southeast Community Center in Bayview-Hunters Point where stormwater runoff feeds a winter wetland to the California Academy of Sciences with its green, living roof, LEED-certified projects dot the cityscape and Public Works architects, engineers, project managers and construction managers have a hand in most of them.
While the Academy of Sciences was the largest public LEED platinum building in the world at the time of its completion in 2008, the poster child for LEED projects in the City may just be the Moscone Center in the South of Market neighborhood.
Not only does the convention center boast the largest solar array on a building in San Francisco, producing nearly 20% of the facility’s energy needs, it also includes an on-site water treatment center to capture and treat rainwater, condensate water and foundation water to flush toilets, feed street cleaning machines and irrigate landscaping.
“Not only are they conserving water, but the water that they're drawing from the site is being put to use instead of going directly into the sewer system,” said Brukman, adding that the building is the highest-rated convention center LEED project in the world.
With the impacts of climate change growing evermore visible and an increasingly pressing need for environmentally friendly building practices, San Francisco continues to embrace its leadership role in sustainability.
“I don't have kids, but I love humanity and I love the planet and animals,” said Melina Markarian, an architectural associate who is also part of the green building committee at Public Works’ Bureau of Architecture.
“I think that buildings are a big player in the whole climate change,” she continued. “And that is something that is part of the work that we do and we can do it in different ways. So we can do it in a way that is better for the planet and for everybody. So I think that's why it's important.”
Landscape architects tour Washington Square Park in North Beach.
Landscape Architects Shine
at National Conference
More than 6,000 landscape architects descended on San Francisco this month for the annual American Society of Landscape Architects conference, giving the Public Works in-house design team an opportunity to showcase our projects and initiatives that bring joy and beauty to our public outdoor spaces.
From project tours and lectures to ensuring streets and open spaces were looking their best, the Public Works Bureau of Landscape Architecture, which hosted the conference, represented our city well.
Interim Public Works Director Carla Short, a certified arborist, participated in two panels. The first, “City of Trees: Protecting the Urban Forest Through Changing Climates,” focused on urban forest master plans, tree species selection in preparation for climate change and San Francisco’s StreetTreeSF program that gave the Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry maintenance responsibility for the City’s 125,000-plus street trees.
Conference-goers check out Pioneer Park that tops Telegraph Hill.
Her second panel, “Designing for Equity, Engagement, and Empowerment: San Francisco Bayview Open Space Plan,” highlighted Bayview Gateway, a community-driven project that turned a barren parcel of Caltrans land into a stunning neighborhood attraction that welcomes people to the southeastern neighborhood with jumbo mosaic letters that spell out “BAYVIEW,” surrounded by native plants and trees. Joining her were Marsha Maloof, president of the Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association, and a representative from the design firm HOK. The trio discussed the importance of creative partnerships among government agencies, the private sector and community organizations in creating change.
Lizzy Hirsch of the Public Works landscape architecture team led a park talk and tour with Cara Ruppert of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, and Brian Strong, who heads the City’s Office of Resilience and Capital Planning. They outlined the history of the City’s bond programs and highlighted bond-funded parks created in North Beach and Chinatown over the past 20 years. Among them: Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground, Joe DiMaggio Playground and Pioneer Park.
The national landscape architects’ conference included a mix of outdoor tours and indoor sessions.
Throughout the conference, there was a call for more recognition of public sector designers. On that topic, Public Works Landscape Architect Solange Guillaume partnered with alumni Jennifer Brooks and Fiona Lyon in “Nimble Innovation 2.0: The Possibility Government Toolkit in Action.” They discussed the opportunity to be innovative within City government and how landscape architects can play a key role to improve communities.
Jennifer Cooper, manager of the Public Works Bureau of Landscape Architecture, took part in a panel to discuss the importance of writing and how well-crafted communication can play a key role in career opportunities in private, public and academic practice.
The conference, held Nov. 11-14, proved inspiring for the Public Works landscape architects who were able to share the City’s local gems with their peers from across the country. “It is easy to become used to the beauty all around us,” said Cooper. “But seeing it through their eyes brought renewed appreciation for our beautiful San Francisco.”
Diners enjoy the Shared Spaces parklet at Java Beach Café near Ocean Beach.
Shared Spaces: the Next Phase
San Francisco’s popular Shared Spaces emerged as an economic lifeline during the COVID pandemic, allowing merchants, restaurants and arts and culture organizations to use the curbside, sidewalk, open lots and other public spaces to conduct local business activities and stay afloat. Now, Shared Spaces is transitioning from an emergency initiative to a permanent program.
If you’re a San Francisco business owner and want to continue operating your existing outdoor Shared Space beyond March 2023, you will need to renew your permit by Jan.15, 2023. Permit holders wishing to end their existing Shared Space need to notify Shared Spaces here.
If you are deciding if a Shared Spaces permit will work for your business, or need to modify your Shared Space to fit the City’s design guidelines, you can watch our 2-minute design guidelines videos to learn how to make sure your Shared Space is safe and accessible for all.
Here are upcoming events in December geared towards helping you:
Application and site plan workshop for current parklet operators wishing to apply for a permit. This interactive, in-person training will ensure that parklet operators and professionals designing and building parklets understand how to create a site plan and an application. Have a question? Bring your application and site plan with you and have our team of experts review it and provide feedback. Please RSVP and submit your questions in advance here. The training will be 1 hour and 30 minutes in length, including a 45-minute Q & A.
Where: The Crossing, 200 Folsom St. San Francisco. Register here.
When: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Parklet Design Training for designers, builders and contractors of parklets. This interactive, in-person training will ensure that professionals designing and building parklets understand design requirements and best practices for safety and accessibility at Shared Spaces parklets. Attendees will receive a certificate of attendance and will be listed on the program website as having attended the City’s training. Please RSVP and submit your questions in advance here. The training will be 1 hour and 30 minutes in length, including a 30-minute Q & A.
Where: 49 South Van Ness, Room 136. Register here
When: Thursday, Dec. 15, 9:30 a.m-11 a.m.