Bathrooms will be plentiful, accessible on Silver Line Metro

A rendering of the Tysons East Metro station, where bathrooms will be for paying customers only.
A rendering of the Tysons East Metro station, where bathrooms will be for paying customers only. (Courtesy Of Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 21, 2009

Access to Metro's restrooms has always seemed like more of a privilege than a right.

Riders must ask a station manager for the key to a locked bathroom, and a handful of stations don't have them. Many passengers have no idea that restrooms exist in most stations, tucked away as they are behind heavy, brown doors that read "Fire Equipment Cabinet" or "Authorized Personnel Only."

That will change, though, for riders of Metro's newest line, who will be able to enjoy the system's first fully accessible restrooms at stations from East Falls Church to Dulles International Airport.

Silver Line bathrooms will be plentiful, with four in each of the 11 stations, two for men and two for women. Each will be private and accessible to the disabled.

"The toilets will be there for the use of the patrons of the system," said Marcia McAllister, spokeswoman for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

But in a design-driven decision that might make some riders and Metro workers jittery, bathrooms in three of the first five stations scheduled to open in 2013 will be outside the fare gates, potentially drawing nonpaying customers.

Tysons Center 123, Tysons Center 7 and Wiehle Avenue in Reston, all on the first 11.7 miles of the line under construction, have been designed with bathrooms outside the fare gate. Pedestrian bridges leading to the stations limited space inside, McAllister said. Bathrooms in Tysons West and Tysons East will be available only to paying customers. Employees will have separate bathrooms.

Parents with babies will be out of luck. The 8-by-8-foot lavatories will have no room for changing stations.

The open-bathroom policy comes after years of frustration and a rider campaign in the early 2000s. But it was not conceived out of altruism. Rather, Dulles rail officials said they are complying with a change to Virginia's building code, which in 2006 added public access requirements for new construction. In Metro's case, public bathrooms in Virginia need to be "readily accessible to the public, the patrons of the rail system," the code says. Unlocking bathrooms only on rider request apparently did not make the cut for ready access.

News of the impending change was greeted with glee and skepticism in an informal survey of Orange Line riders.

"Oh, really? Wow!" Susie Weller, a graduate student at the Jane Goodall Institute, said on her way to class in Ballston. Then: "Hmm. I wonder how dirty they would get? I'd use it if I really had to go."

Howard Schwartz, an administrative judge for the Department of Veterans Affairs, recalled a bad case of indigestion that overtook him Thursday after lunch at a downtown D.C. steakhouse. By the time he got off the train in Vienna, he really, really needed a bathroom.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company