New JCDecaux public restroom touches down at Embarcadero Plaza

A new JCDecaux public restroom at Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (Photo by Jerold Chinn)

No, a spaceship did not land in San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza. Instead, it’s a new, shiny, self-cleaning public restroom that is open for business.

The new restroom, which looks like it’s about to take off any moment into space, will replace all of the 25 Parisian style green JCDecaux public restrooms that are scattered around The City. The Department of Public Works said the old green restrooms from the 1990s are past their useful life as mechanical systems are old and parts are hard to find.

So, what does the new restroom offer?

“It’s got natural lighting, updated mechanical systems, better cleaning and sanitizing,” said Interim DPW Director Carla Short. “It’s a really nice, elegant, very modern without being over the top, space age design.”

A voice inside welcomes a person inside the restroom and immediately directs them to the location of the toilet and sink. The voice alsreminds them to not forget their belongings.

Short said the cost to The City is zero as it has 20-year advertising contract with JCDecaux that allows the company to have 114 advertising kiosks in the Financial District, downtown and tourist destination areas. She added that JCDecaux will have the same number of advertising kiosks as it did before in a previous contract.

In return for the advertising kiosks, JCDecaux pays for the design, manufacturing and installation of the new restrooms. Additionally, JCDecaux will pay $2.2 million annually to staff 11 of 25 restrooms with attendants.

Francois Nicon, executive vice president with JCDecaux San Francisco, said the maintenance team will stop by each day to make sure the toilet is working properly and to do any maintenance of the restroom, including removing graffiti.

“At the end of the day it’s an urban environment, ‘’ said Nicon. “It’s always challenging and the only thing that works is to our maintenance team that stop by everyday”

SmithGroup was the winner of an invitation-only competition to design the new restrooms and advertising kiosks.

“The request was really to try to be contemporary,” said Tyler Krehlik, an architect with SmithGroup’s San Francisco office.

Krehlik said they were looking at the Salesforce Transit Center and even BART “to make a family of furniture that fits in with that model.”

The public can visit or try out the new restroom at Embarcadero Plaza, which will be staffed seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Jerold Chinn

Award-winning transportation journalist based in San Francisco.