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New BART Fare Gates Raise Questions About Hostile Design

How far is BART willing to go to stop people from jumping fare gates? Social media users have called new fare gates "skull crushers" and "inverted guillotines."
July 29, 2019, 10am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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BART Fare Gate
A kinder, gentler BART.
John Martinez Pavliga

Lina Blanco uses the controversy arising from new BART fare gates as an opportunity to discuss hostile architecture and design in the public realm—a discussion with implications for planners as well.

"Urban planning provides tangible evidence of how a region grapples with some of its most pressing issues, whether that's budget shortfalls or a crisis of livability," according to Blanco.

If that's true the Bay Area Regional Transit system is showing a lack of patience and a tendency to violence in reaction to fare evasion, according to the public response to a proposed pilot project to redesign fare gates at a couple of system stops.

Kurt Kohlstedt, digital director and producer for the architecture and design podcast 99% Invisible, is quoted in the article describing the fare gates as a most extreme example of design. "I haven't seen anything that even comes close to the overt hostility of these inverted guillotine prototypes," said Kohlstedt.

"In a viral tweet over the weekend, BART riders expressed their concerns over a recent fare-evasion modification pilot gate spotted at Fruitvale station," writes Blanco. "Many were quick to point out how the preventative effort is a disturbing example of anti-poor, anti-homeless and ableist design. Others called the prototypes an extreme example of hostile architecture."

Blanco's tweet referred to the "inverted guillotine" version, but the "skull crusher" version also got attention on Twitter.

While BART has chosen a very particular reaction to fare evasion, many other cities and transit agencies are taking the opposite approach, decriminalizing fare evasion as a tool of discrimination that has always penalized people of color and low income people at higher rates.

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Published on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in KQED
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