For more than a generation, bureaucracy, politics and corruption thwarted three successive New York mayors from modernizing the city’s shabby bus shelters, newsstands and public toilets.
Finally, under Michael R. Bloomberg, contracts to build new ones were signed in 2006. After court challenges to the bidding process and other hurdles were overcome, all of the 3,355 sleek bus shelters that were promised were built. So were 304 stylish newsstands.
But the third pipeline in the street furniture franchise has been irreducibly clogged. Only three public toilets have ever been installed. Which means that, at this point, one could almost graduate from a four-year college in the time it takes to install a one-seat public toilet in New York City.
If installation continues at this rate, the 20 automatic toilets for which the city sought bids fully a decade ago will be functioning by about 2065. Of course, even 20 toilets, for a city that swells to nearly 10 million with commuters on a typical weekday, would mean one such facility would serve nearly 500,000 people. Which suggests, perhaps, that the deal was not seriously intended to eliminate the scarcity in the first place.
Pointedly, the contract required up to 20 by the time the franchise expires in 2026.
Still, even if it was just an experiment, a pilot program, an afterthought or a sop to cabbies, food cart vendors and traffic agents before the proliferation of Starbucks, why has it taken nine years since Mayor Bloomberg first awarded the contract to install only three of them?