Mapping of indoor toilets

I am new to these forums so I hope I’m doing this the right way. My question regards the mapping of indoor toilets which are not public toilets.

I’m a student at the VUB in Brussels. There are a lot of toilets on the campus, technically meant for students and staff but due to the university’s “open campus” policy they are de facto accessible to everyone. In my opinion this doesn’t imply mapping as accessible to all (e.g. access=yes), as they are intended to be used by students/professors/staff/… only, and this can be enforced (this was for example the case during the COVID pandemic in 2020, where buildings were partially locked).

Currently close to none of these toilets have been mapped, and I noticed the OSM wiki describes the use case for amenity=toilets as “a toilet open to the public”, which is de facto the case here, yet as far as I know access describes the legal/theoretical access, not actual in case these differ. However I think it would be very useful to be able to map these toilets, for a few reasons. (1) Given the lack of public toilets, if the toilets at VUB were mapped, even with non-public access and a note regarding the “open campus” policy of VUB, this is useful for people who need to use a toilet. (2) There are at least 15,000 students at VUB and while I am aware mapping private areas is not OSM’s goal, I do think at least tags like toilets=* on buildings can be useful. Not all toilets are equal which in my opinion makes it extremely useful, if not necessary, to map them individually. Notably, some are wheelchair accessible while others are not, and some are gender neutral while others are not. With some buildings at VUB being up to 10 floors high, I think this would be quite difficult to map.

So, to conclude, should this type of toilets be mapped, and if so, in what way?

Hi @queerthoughts and welcome to the forum!

According to the wiki article How We Map contributions to OpenStreetMap should be:

  • Truthful - means that you cannot contribute something you have invented.
  • Legal - means that you don’t copy copyrighted data without permission.
  • Verifiable - means that others can go there and see for themselves if your data is correct.
  • Relevant - means that you have to use tags that make clear to others how to re-use the data.

With this in mind I can answer at least one of your questions:

You did not invent the existence of the toilets. You got the information legally by visiting the place. Other people can go there too to verify the information. The existence of the toilets is relevant to at least 15000 people. So mapping these toilets is a good idea and should be done.

Answering the question about the access=*-tag is more tricky. That depends on the exact situation:

  • Is there anything stopping someone who has no conection to the university to enter the buildings/toilets? Something like a sign at the campus or building entrance saying “only students/employees are allowed to enter” or security staff avoiding someone from entering?
    If it is like this than I would map the toilets as access=private.
  • Is the ““open campus” policy” part of a law or something similar?
    If it is like this I would map the toilets as access=yes.
  • If there is no law or something visible “on the ground” that prevents someone from using the toilets but also nothing allowing it it gets tricky. There is access=students wich is not used much. It is defined as “may be used or accessed only by students”. Does that include toilets for students and teachers/professors? Is a student from university A allowed to use an access=student-toilet in university B? I am nut sure if I would use access=students at all because of its little use and the wiki page that does not answer the questions above.
  • For a university that de facto allows everyone to use the toilets but does not announce that fact anywhere the situation is hard to verify by other people. But it is still possible. If I go there and I can use the toilet without ignoring a sign, breaking open a locked door or outsmart security staff I verifyed that the public can de facto use the toilet. I would use access=permissive for such toilets.

So in conclusion if I understand the situation for your university right I would map them and I would use access=permissive.

As far as I know, the “open campus” policy is not a law or similar, but merely an informal policy of the university. It is outlined on this web page. This page also states:

Access control is in force […]. This means that after closing times you will only be able to open the doors with a staff card. Buildings are opened and closed depending on the activity taking place.

I do not know the opening hours of the buildings by heart, but this is the sort of information that can be verified and is essentially an access:conditional restriction. The access control using electronic cards is actively enforced, however general access to buildings is only restricted by opening hours (as mentioned earlier) and in the case of extremely uncommon events, such as the COVID-related lockdows, major terrorist threats etc. This restriction is relevant to some areas of the buildings (I for example have worked in laboratories which required access using these cards) but as far as I know (and I have surveyed the vast majority of VUB toilets) does not apply to toilets/staircases/hallways/… (general access to buildings) apart for the cases mentioned earlier.

I fully agree with your reasoning behind mapping this as access=permissive, but I (or someone else mapping this) should verify the opening hours of the buildings.

That leaves another question unanswered, though: these buildings have multiple floors (the highest ones have 12), and each floor has (generally) one or two toilets, but these vary considerably. Some have the typical “one male toilet, one female toilet” per floor, while some buildings used an approach with odd-numbered floors having male toilets and even-numbered floors having female ones, presumably because of lack of space. Some toilets have been converted into gender neutral ones, but as they are converted from gender-separated ones, they tend to have urinals in the former male toilets but not in the former female ones. In my opinion this illustrates the need to map them all separately, as the (lack of) gender neutral toilets is relevant to at least some people. Furthermore, in buildings with mutiple floors, toilets tend to be exactly above one another, making it impossible to put multiple nodes at the same place. It’s not possible to map all toilets as one node as their characteristics vary between floors as mentioned earlier.

So, I think access=permissive and maybe access:conditional=* applies here, and in my opinion tags like male=*, female=*, unisex=*, gender_segregated=* and/or toilets:position=* are extremely useful as well. But I am unsure on the placement on the notes to indicate facilities on different floors.

This is interesting. I imagine the OSM database does allow this, but perhaps editors & renderers struggle to represent it nicely?

Not something I’ve had to deal with myself yet, keen to hear other’s input on it though.

I guess just put them like one eetsy beetsy degree different from the other toilet each time? Probably the only real solution. It won’t be clear on the regular map BUT on indoor mapping applications, it will be properly displayed

repeat_on was created exactly for this. Indoor mapping with an identical feature on multiple floor : Key:repeat_on - OpenStreetMap Wiki

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Seems very suitable for this case, thanks!

Mapping things that are stacked on top of each other is always not so much fun in OSM.

Maybe there are multiple ways of thinking of it in this siuation:

  • There are multiple toilets scattered across multiple storys.
  • There is one toilet with multiple storys.

So if I take your example:

and use @benjamin-demarteau 's repeat_on=*, that could be a single node with

describtion=male toilets in odd-numbered floors, female toilets in even-numbered floors

To get rid of the description=* you could make 2 groups of toilets like this:


and another node next to it with:


Would that be an option?

This is what I had in mind and well. For places with one series of toilets above one another, this seems perfect, although the OSM wiki states that male=yes implies female=no and vice versa, so I think even less tags can be used without loss of information.

For places that have separate male and female toilets (or had these, but converted to gender neutral ones, while preserving the layout), these are obviously not in the exact same spot (different rooms) and the same approach could be used here, but with two nodes next to each other.

You can use access=private private=students instead.

Or indeed access=permissive if general usage is tolerated.