Every time I walk through 30th Street Station after a trip to New York or D.C., I feel giddy. The cavernous Art Deco interior, the classical columns, the flurry of transients scuttling across my city’s gorgeous travel hub—the thrill of urban transit doesn’t get more palpable than that.
But then, because I’ve been traveling for a few hours, I head to the ladies’ room. And in less time than it takes me to walk through the door to one of the oft-locked stalls, 30th Street goes from city gem to grimy truck stop.
The Yelp reviews say it all: “disgusting,” “dirty,” “scary,” “filthy.” The nicest thoughts anyone has to offer about the restrooms are “okay” and “tolerable.”
Consider, for a moment, who funnels through these bathrooms every day. Professionals commuting via the Amtrak line. Collegians deboarding BoltBuses from across the Eastern Seaboard. Tourists dragging their suitcases off the regional rail from the airport. Exactly the people for whom Philly should be fluffing its fanciest guest towels.
Instead, these Philly passers-through get automatic dryers that are held together by duct tape and offer all the air power of a geriatric cough. They use their tiptoes to push open dented stall doors, looking for just one toilet not clogged with floating mess. They skirt sanitary-waste bins that have become unattached and are precariously placed on stall floors. Not quite the impression we might be hoping for, no?
30th Street Station is owned and operated by Amtrak. I shared my findings with a spokeswoman there. “There are holes in some of the walls behind the toilets,” I pointed out. “Like they were knocked out when an old system was replaced or something. You can see tubes in there.” What was the plan for repairing the decrepit powder rooms?
Turns out the 30th Street bathrooms aren’t due for rehab until 2015. “Pending funding,” the spokeswoman added. Until then, the only scheduled upkeep is routine cleanings.
For a city that’s constantly trying to come out from under its grungy rep, it seems like filling in a gaping hole behind toilets used daily by impressionable tourists would be a no-brainer. Of course, at least now we don’t have to worry about enforcing the sign hovering next to the bathroom exit: NO LOITERING.
This article originally appeared in the January issue of Philadelphia magazine.