July 16, 2001 12:00 PM

It would be half-time at the game or intermission at the theater, and the line for the women’s room would look more like a queue for Springsteen tickets: endless and slow-moving. Mary Richardson-Lowry had seen it time and again. “I’d still be standing in line,” she says, “while my husband would be in and out.”

Unlike other ladies-in-waiting, however, Richardson-Lowry, Chicago’s buildings commissioner, could do something. So from now on, thanks to a city ordinance she sponsored, the first in a city this size, all new and substantially renovated buildings must increase the number of women’s toilets. Instead of 12 rest rooms for each gender, for instance, a new or rehabbed 6,000-seat outdoor stadium would have 36 men’s rooms and 51 women’s. “In sports arenas 50 years ago,” points out Richardson-Lowry, 43, whose husband, Mark, 45, is an executive at a nonprofit foundation, “the vast number who attended events were male. That’s no longer the case.” And, she notes, little kids often go with Mommy.

Commissioner since 1998, Richardson-Lowry, who grew up in Los Angeles, decided in January 2000 to amend the city’s 44-year-old building code. Her boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, quickly got on board the rest-room issue. “As a husband and father of two daughters,” he says, “I can sympathize.” Now if only someone could do something about that unflattering fluorescent lighting.

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