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U of M project tracks public restrooms near Minnesota bike trails

The "MN Bike and Go" project is asking for the public's help in locating and rating public restrooms near bike trails across the state.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — It's a beautiful time of year to be out on the trails. But when you're on the go, you may need to go to the bathroom. A new University of Minnesota project is helping track where these restrooms can be found on bike trails across the state.

"We are really excited about this project. My research expertise is in bowel and bladder health and I am aware of a couple of interactive maps in Australia and the UK starting one that are doing something similar," said Donna Bliss, a UMN School of Nursing professor.

Bliss said she wanted to do the same for Minnesota — launching the MN Bike and Go project.

The project uses crowdsourcing where anyone can submit through the MN Bike and Go website the location of a public restroom or portable toilet near any bike path in the state. 

"It's something that'll work on everybody's smartphone. So if you're out biking or walking and you see a restroom — whether it's a porta potty or permanent structure — we're asking people to take a minute, click in the link, it'll open up a survey," explained Len Kne, director of U-Spatial at the University of Minnesota. 

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The survey will ask a few questions about the restroom including if there's disability access, how clean it is and how often it's open. At the end, the survey asks for an overall restroom rating. 

Even if the location already shows up on the map, Kne is encouraging people to still submit information and rate the restroom. 

Since launching in late April, they've received about 35 responses. They've been reaching out to different bicycle organizations and bike shops throughout the state to encourage more people to submit to the website. While the project is focused on bike paths, many of these trails are also used by walkers and runners who would also benefit from the information.

Right now they are in the collecting phase but as more information comes in, it can be used more often for locating the nearest public restroom. 

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"Even thinking of families who bike with children. They also have small bladders. They may not have real great bowel control and so this can... help you determine what the restroom or portable toilet is near you but you could also use it ahead of time and plan your trip so you'll know where you might want to plan a rest stop, just in case," Bliss said. 

Information can also be updated as more restrooms reopen after shutting during the pandemic. 

"We know that there was a great increase in bicycling as an activity with good health benefits," Bliss said. "So we just hope this will help more people enjoy themselves outside and help others."

You can visit MN Bike and Go, here