Silicon Valley Men's Room Problem

Sooner or later, most lecture courses on queues mention the problem of queues for toilets.  Generally the focus is on the provision of facilities in public buildings, and the difference between the genders.  One writer summed up the problem that exists in theatres and similar places where the demand for toilets peaks during a short period of time; if there is a queue for the men's room, as well as for the ladies' room, then there is a real design problem.

The UK national newspaper, The Independent, published a picture and article yesterday with a twist to this story.  It showed Dan Ackerman's picture (above) of a queue for the men's room, and no (visible) queue for the women's.  It was taken at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WDC) in San Francisco.  What does it say?  The majority of delegates at the conference were male, but the provision in the conference centre assumed a more even mix of delegates.

The picture started a Twitter account whose aim is to see enough women in software development that there would be a queue at the women's restroom.

But OR is not just about modelling queues; it should aim to reduce congestion.  What might be done in the conference centre for such an event as the WDC, where the organisers know that there will be an imbalance?  The same problem applies in reverse for conferences targeting women.  If there really only two restrooms, then there is little possible unless all the provision is made private (i.e. no public urinals).  But at a large conference, then one could designate some restrooms of one gender to be temporarily for the other.  Yes, the minority might have to walk, but the majority would not have to cross their legs in the queue outside the doors.

Step forward someone who attended the WDC and can give figures for the number of accessible restrooms for each gender, and step forward someone who could model the system.


  1. I see two potential problems. First, I believe that certain jurisdictions mandate by law a minimum restroom capacity (tied to venue capacity) for each gender, or at least for women. (It was a gender equity issue here at one time.) I'm not sure whether those ordinances, if still in existence, allow for temporary repurposing. Second, the differences in fixtures and furnishings (couches are not uncommon in ladies rooms but unheard of in the gents) might freak out some customers, inhibiting the very activities we sought to expedite.

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