Futuristic New Street Toilets Are Coming to San Francisco

SmithGroupJJR
SmithGroupJJR

San Francisco’s streets are getting shiny new additions: futuristic-looking public toilets. Co.Design reports that San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has chosen a new design for self-cleaning street toilets by the architectural firm SmithGroupJJR that will eventually replace the city’s current public toilets.

The design is a stark contrast to the current San Francisco toilet aesthetic, a green knockoff of Paris’s Sanisettes. (They’re made by the same company that pioneered the Parisian version, JCDecaux.) The tall, curvy silver pods, called AmeniTREES, are topped with green roof gardens designed to collect rainwater that can then be used to flush the toilets and clean the kiosks themselves. They come in several different variations, including a single or double bathroom unit, one with benches, a street kiosk that can be used for retail or information services, and a design that can be topped by a tree. The pavilions also have room for exterior advertising.

Renderings of the silver pod bathrooms from the side and the top
SmithGroupJJR

“The design blends sculpture with technology in a way that conceptually, and literally, reflects San Francisco’s unique neighborhoods,” the firm’s design principal, Bill Katz, explained in a press statement. “Together, the varied kiosks and public toilets design will also tell a sustainability story through water re-use and native landscapes.”

San Francisco has a major street-poop problem, in part due to its large homeless population. The city has the second biggest homeless population in the country, behind New York City, and data collected in 2017 shows that the city has around 7500 people living on its streets. Though the city started rolling out sidewalk commodes in 1996, it doesn’t have nearly enough public toilets to match demand. There are only 28 public toilets across the city right now, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

These designs aren’t ready to go straight into construction first—the designers have to work with JCDeaux, which installs the city’s toilets, to adapt them “to the realities of construction and maintenance,” as the Chronicle puts it. Then, those plans will have to be submitted to the city’s arts commission and historic preservation commission before they can be installed.

[h/t Co.Design]

Why Some Lines in the Road Are Yellow and Others Are White

Gang Zhou, iStock via Getty Images
Gang Zhou, iStock via Getty Images

Even if you can't explain the significance behind every color and symbol used in road signs, you may understand them on a subconscious level. That's why the designs are chosen in the first place: Our brains associate colors with certain feelings, and on the road, a symbol's ability to communicate danger in less time than it takes to read a word could mean the difference between life and death.

This was taken into consideration when the federal government standardized the markings used to separate traffic lanes in 1971. Today the lines are painted in two colors: White for when both traffic lanes are traveling in the same direction and yellow for when they're not. The distinction is meant to prevent accidents, but it took years to convince officials that it was the right choice.

Edward Hines designed the first modern centerline for a road in the early 1900s. He made it white, inspired by spilled milk he once saw on a freshly paved road, and that color remained the default for decades. By 1955, most states used white stripes to divide their traffic lanes. The one exception was Oregon. The state insisted that yellow was a better way to signal caution—a claim the rest of the country didn't buy. Oregon ultimately agreed to change its centerlines to white when the government threatened to withhold $300 million in highway funding.

By 1971, the people in charge of standardizing highway symbols had come around to Oregon's point of view. The case for yellow as the color for caution was stronger than ever: It had been implemented in stoplights as the signal for slow and it was even the color of stop signs in the early 20th century.

But not every centerline needed to come with such a strong warning. While the color of lines separating parallel traffic flow remained white, yellow was used as a buffer between cars driving in the opposite directions—in other words, the lines that are most dangerous to cross. That rule in the 1971 edition of the Manual of Uniform Control Devices for Streets and Highways is still standard today.

Many road sign features, like the green in interstate signs, have interesting origin stories. Here are more facts about the roads you take every day.

[h/t Reader's Digest]

The Reason Escalator Stairs Are Grooved

Thanks to the escalator stairs' grooves, these feet are not in danger.
Thanks to the escalator stairs' grooves, these feet are not in danger.
ananaline/iStock via Getty Images

The thin metal grooves in escalator stairs might make the entire structure look extra dangerous, but they’re actually there for your safety.

As George R. Strakosch writes in The Vertical Transportation Handbook, the steps are cleated “so that people who ride with their toes against the riser will not have their soft shoe soles drawn between the steps as the steps straighten out.”

In other words, the grooves allow ascending steps to merge into a flat surface at the top of the escalator with minimal space between them. That way, the edge of a flip-flop or a runaway plastic bag won’t get sucked into the structure. According to Reader’s Digest, the (often yellow) strips of hardware with comb-like metal teeth that run along the top and bottom edges of escalators are there for the same reason. As the stairs disappear back into the depths of the escalator, these aptly named comb plates keep out anything that shouldn’t go with them.

Since escalator technology isn’t quite advanced enough to have comb plates toss that trash into the nearest garbage can, it’s still up to us to dispose of any litter a comb plate has pushed aside. But the most important part is that it’s been barred from entering the underbelly of the machine, where it could cause the escalator to break down.

The grooves also prevent liquids from pooling on the surface of the stairs, making escalators puddle-free—and possibly even safer than a regular set of stairs, at least on a rainy day.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

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