vision zero toronto

A Toronto high school student designed a safer street in around 10 minutes

Toronto's Vision Zero Road Safety Plan has been the subject of criticism from safety advocates, as pedestrian and cyclist fatalities remain alarmingly high years into the program's rollout. The program states its goal as reducing traffic-related deaths and injuries to zero, a target that still feels unbelievably distant despite the safety measures already implemented.

It's a problem that's got one passionate young safety advocate taking on the role of armchair infrastructure designer, the 17-year-old high school student designing his own mockup of a safe street.

And he did it in about ten minutes.

A grade 12 student out of Scarborough, Hafeez Alavi encountered a tweet showing a road in the U.S., clearly designed with cars as the priority and cyclists as an afterthought.

While it wasn't a Toronto-specific example, Alavi saw it as representative of the situation here at home, and took it upon himself to respond to the tweet's call to action.

Frustrated by the neverending studies and compromises to appease motorists that get in the way of meaningful change, the student advocate wanted to prove that "if I can do it, then the city β€” surely with far more resources β€” can do it."

Alavi's relatively young age and the speed at which he offered a safer, easy-to-implement alternative has Twitter talking. Many are lauding his work as something the trained professionals who design safe streets should be paying close attention to.

We reached out to the teenage safety advocate for a look into what shaped his keen interest in infrastructure.

"I started out as a neighbourhood advocate for better infrastructure in my community. I always looked at what we have in our city and thought, 'we should fix this,'Β or 'we should do that,' annoyed at how the city takes years to find solutions," says Alavi, who is planning to study urban planning when he goes to university.

"Ever since COVID began, I have been looking for ways to make a difference in my community, starting grassroots advocacy like pushing for new speed limit signs and concrete curbs to neighbourhood roads."

He admits he never learned how to navigate the complexities of Photoshop, but that didn't stop Alavi from getting to work with the tools he had at his disposal after seeing the tweet showing this perplexing layout. The original base image includes a central bike lane flanked by vehicle lanes, something apparently known by the menacing nickname of murder strips in Ireland.

He set out using a Windows program called Paint3D, telling blogTO how it offers "tools where you can manipulate 3D objects and move them around. It's really cool because, as a simple casual artist like me who has no background in design, you can really do a lot."

"I take the base picture and simply cut out the parts I don't want and add in the new lines. For 3D objects, the program allows me to make new curbs and planters, adding them into the picture as I see fit."

And if you think it takes a work ethic of steel to churn out such a well-thought-out street design in less time than it takes to scroll through your IG feed, Alavi admits, "I was in bed at the time."

And while he may be getting some advocacy done from the comfort of his bed, he still has some strong words about safety in the city, spoken especially eloquently for someone high school-aged.

"Vision Zero doesn't have to take a long time," says Alavi. "It can start with simple, quick-build designs like bike lanes with bollards. These don't have to wait for road reconstruction. Cities can effectively do this tomorrow if they want to. It just takes effective leadership."

Lead photo by

Hafeez Alavi

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