Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
Watch your step.
San Francisco is dealing with a number of crises right now: congestion, affordability, gentrification, public transit funding—the list goes on. But a new interactive map suggests public pooping is a pretty big problem as well.
Over the last few years, the city has seen more and more human waste crowding its sidewalks, so much so that one Medium writer dubbed the city “Shitty San Francisco.” Back in 2014, web developer Jenny Wong created a map of all the public reports of excrement sightings made that year. The result was a startling image of a city inundated with filth, particularly near the financial district—a popular tourist locale.
San Francisco wasn’t always this dirty. To show just how much human waste has accumulated there over time, self-titled “data explorer” William Mees made an even more comprehensive map of these reports from July 2008 to September 2015.
While the Tenderloin district is consistently hit hardest by the city’s poop problem, the map shows waste spreading to other parts of the city in increasingly large concentrations. Areas like SOMA and Mid-Market, for instance, are both dealing with an excess of feces.
“Let’s face it: if you live in the city, regardless of location or class affiliation, you’ve probably had your own encounter with the aftermath of a public number-two,” writes Noah Sanders of The Bold Italic.
There are a few explanations for what’s happening. For one, San Francisco’s poor zoning laws and lack of affordable housing have contributed to the city’s growing homeless population. More homelessness means more people living without access to restrooms, and having little choice but to defecate in the street.
The more immediate problem is that San Francisco lacks a sufficient number of public restrooms. Only 28 toilets in the entire city are open 24 hours a day, while an estimated 500 or so bathrooms are needed to meet the city’s demands.
Recently, San Francisco Public Works has tried to correct this problem by launching pilot “Pit Stop” programs in areas like the Tenderloin and SOMA. These programs provide mobile toilets, sinks, and used-needle receptacles, as well as dog waste stations, for all city residents. Mobile units have led to a decline in requests to clean up the streets, but they still pose the same issue of limited availability—“Pit Stops” are only open to the public from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.
Though the first pilot program was launched in July 2014, it’s clear by the interactive map that levels of human feces are still on the rise. Now more than ever, San Francisco is in need of additional restrooms—or more businesses willing to open their restrooms to the public—to clean up its streets. Until then, watch your step.