After years of clamoring from local store owners, the City Council voted unanimously last week to work towards the installment of toilets in Cambridge's streets.
The council asked City Manager Robert W. Healy and the Chamber of Commerce to work together to produce a plan for public toilets in Harvard and Central Squares.
"As a civilized country, we ought to have toilet facilities for people that are available when they're out and around," Councillor Alice K. Wolf said yesterday.
"It seems sensible and practical to me," she said.
Wolf said she had raised this issue before and hopes that this time people will take it seriously.
And so does Central Square business owner Carl F. Barron, who has requested that Cambridge install public restrooms for nearly 10 years.
Barron complains of widespread sanitation and aesthetic problems from the homeless using his storefront as a bathroom.
"There's everything objectionable about it," Barron said. "It spreads disease, and it's bad for business because of the smell and the appearance."
Now, after the success of public pay toilets in New York City, the wishes of Barron and other area store owners may come true here in Cambridge.
The New York program, which would serve as the model for the Cambridge restrooms, began earlier this year when the city installed six coin-operated self-cleaning toilets on the streets in Manhattan.
Despite fears that the kiosks would be vandalized or that they would encourage lurid activity, the program has been so successful that the city recently ordered 100 more toilets from the French firm that manufactures them.
In an attempt to discourage passers-by from using Cambridge store fronts as toilets, the City Council this year had already put up signs in Central Square pointing out the public restrooms in City Hall and at the police station.
But Barron said this effort has not been effective because the homeless and the inebriated are afraid to go to these locations.
The homeless in Harvard Square said that they have few alternatives. "There's nowhere to go," said a man who would only identify himself as Beucler.
Another homeless man from Dorchester, who declined to give his name, said he has trouble finding a restroom when he comes to Harvard Square to look through trash cans.