Black-and-white photo of handwashing under a stream of running water in a sink.

City Finally Funds Street Sinks Six Months After Funding From City Council

by Erica C. Barnett

(This article was previously published at PubliCola and has been reprinted with permission.)


Six months after the City Council allocated $100,000 to “develop and implement a publicly accessible sink program that utilizes the Street Sink style handwashing station model developed by the Clean Hands Collective,” Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has finally chosen two vendors to receive the money.

Slightly more than half, $60,000, will go to the Clean Hands Collective, an organization founded by Real Change that includes landscape architects and public health experts; the rest, $40,000, will go to Seattle Makers, a South Lake Union “makerspace” that designed a prototype “handwashing station” at an estimated cost of $7,250 per unit — about 10 times the price of Clean Hands’ Street Sink. According to Seattle Makers’ website, the City reached out to them to design the sink.

Tiffani McCoy, the advocacy director at Real Change, said she thinks “we can easily put up 45 sinks for the $60,000,” assuming it will cost about $10,000 to roll out the program — a process that will include building and maintaining the sinks as well as finding new locations for many of them.

A spokeswoman for SPU said the City does not know yet how many sinks of either type the money will fund and that the ultimate cost per unit will depend on the design.

The Clean Hands Collective hired a contractor to work with the seven district-based councilmembers to identify appropriate sites for 63 sinks — nine in each council district — but the City now requires the sinks to be near a storm drain and a fire hydrant, which knocks many sites off the list. “If we’d known these specifications [from the beginning], we could have saved a lot of work and money,” McCoy said.

The SPU spokeswoman said SPU will work with another executive department, the Department of Neighborhoods, to site the sinks and that some will probably be in locations the Clean Hands Collective already identified, if they meet all the new requirements for wheelchair access and greywater disposal.

“Like ADA accessibility, the location of compliant greywater discharge outlets may also be an important part of siting,” the spokeswoman said. “Final ADA compliance will be dependent on siting, including access points and providing a level, flat surface without tripping hazards.”

Many of the city’s existing “sanicans,” including some that have foot-powered sinks, are neither ADA compliant nor wheelchair accessible.

Although Seattle Makers did not immediately respond to a message seeking updated costs on Monday, May 24, their cube-metal model is heftier and looks more “permanent” than the Street Sink, which consists of a basic utility sink that drains into a galvanized tub filled with plants and dirt.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s public utilities department delayed implementation of street sinks for months, SPU Director Mami Hara has said, because they wanted to open up bidding to more people, expand the scope of the project to include things like food waste disposal, and address concerns such as ADA compliance, greywater disposal, and tripping hazards, among a long list of other issues.

The council could provide more funding to both Seattle Makers and the Clean Hands Collective in a supplemental budget action later this year.

At a council meeting earlier this month, Hara suggested that the Street Sinks might actually spread diseases themselves, if users contaminated sink surfaces and then another person touched them without washing their own hands. As we’ve reported, during the past year and a half, when both private and public restrooms have been closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there have been numerous outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases and hepatitis that could have been prevented or controlled if people had access to soap and running water to wash their hands. The latest one was in the South Delridge area, near White Center, earlier this month.


Erica C. Barnett is a feminist, an urbanist, and an obsessive observer of politics, transportation, and the quotidian inner workings of City Hall.

Featured image is attributed to Ruth (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license).

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