A Change of Direction

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Hey Sprout readers, Tom here.

Since July 2018 I’ve been sharing news and information with you here as one of the team of custodians working on the Sprout, but today I’ve got some news of my own to share- please read on!

For the last year, I’ve been communications apprentice at ProMo-Cymru, in a third sector, partially EU-funded position that would ideally lead into a career in youth work, or at least digital youth work.

My time here has been wonderful. A supportive team, a wide range of things to work on, an innovative timesheet system which really values employees’ time and a cosy office in Cardiff Bay are just a few of the great benefits of working here.

However- prepare for the puns- I’ve come to a fork in the road and reached a new conclusion about where I want to point the wheel.

Today I’m excited to announce that I’ve been accepted into Cardiff University (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree) to study an MSc in Transport and Planning.

Over the past three years, I’ve increasingly noticed the glaring failures in the fabric of Wales’ transport network. I’ve been to other places too, to see what they do better and worse. London’s bus system, for example, is brilliant- combined with the Citymapper app. Valencia has wide streets, extensive bike lanes, a shiny metro and affordable mixed-use apartment blocks. We could have these things too, but we don’t. And why not?

In 2016, I was in the final year of my journalism and sociology degree, and still living in central Cardiff. I began to study things related to the use of space in sociology, and this coincided with me both learning to drive and getting used to using my bike to get around more often. It was at this point, after writing an essay called The Duality of Cardiff, I considered studying something relevant. I looked at the MA course in Urban Design, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

(As a side note, that Duality of Cardiff essay needs a real update now after a year working on the Sprout! I have been to SO many places in Cardiff this year…)

I also began to read websites like CityLab and CityMetric, and engage with the Facebook groups loosely affiliated with the now-massive New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens (there is a British one as well as a bike themed one, both smaller and cosier). For a short while when I could briefly afford it, I was a Patreon supporter for the War on Cars podcast.

In 2017, I went on a date in Blackwood- a mere 16 mile journey from my job in west Cardiff that took over two hours and involved two trains and a bus. It was soon after the IPCC had warned we had just 12 years to do something about climate change. For some reason, the young woman I met with asked me if I wanted children. I explained that I couldn’t conscientiously bring life into this world when it was basically going to be over by the time they were grown up. And so nothing more came of it, I went back to work and looked on as everyone I met laughed: things are buggered, they’re going to get worse, but we have to keep going in the system we have now because that’s what we’ve always done.

I’d passed my test by now, and began driving once a week from Ystrad to Blackwood for theatre practice. I felt so guilty about this- it’s only about a three mile journey, and I had basically zero luggage. Yet, to cycle or get public transport this tiny distance (for leisure, at least) seemed impossible in an area built for driving. Meanwhile, getting from Cardiff Central to Chapter Arts Centre every morning (having not enough money to rent in Cardiff) became a Herculean undertaking. A distance that would have taken me under 15 minutes from my old place in Cathays by bike would routinely take up more than half an hour of my day.

NextBike came to Cardiff in the summer of 2017- just after I had finished at CR. The hire bike system is awesome- it opens up a whole new element to the city. The hire bikes may not be as good as having your own bike, but it’s for a different purpose. One way, cheap, short journeys is where NextBike really shines. It’s a careful balancing act, but NextBike can solve the last-mile problem commuters face, making taking the train far more viable for many, reducing congestion and pollution in the city and filling in connections the rails do not take.

In 2018, I joined the new environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion. Whilst I don’t understand a lot of the stuff your average XR member is into: singing, getting arrested, shouting “We love you” at people who disapprove of the protests, blocking the DLR, protesting the incoming 5G network, and so on, the great thing about the movement is: it’s what you make it. You suggest an idea, and it’ll become a thing. So, whilst the big London protests were happening, we arranged a massive bike ride- a Critical Mass, if you like- that slowed Cardiff rush hour traffic for three days in April. I joined in as a blocker- wearing an embarrassing hi viz vest, using my body and bike to block lanes of incoming traffic to let cyclists of all shapes and sizes pass by safely as a group. It felt brilliant. This was our living, urban area, being reclaimed from the motoring menace.

My work at ProMo-Cymru has frequently involved working with deprived communities in Cardiff and South Wales. One thing many of them have in common is poor transport links. For a while, I rented a room out in Gabalfa. Just three miles from the bay, about a mile and a half from the city centre- a 25 minute ride to work. A nice big house, but storing my bike in it was a real pain. The railway station was so far away you may as well walk into town. And I definitely couldn’t afford to run a car. This is great for sunny days, but on days you feel a bit ill or it’s tipping down, it meant an hour long bus ride.

And my god, I had never felt more depressed. No wonder people from these communities lapse into despondency. They are forgotten. Anyone with any amount of money drives. If you don’t drive, you don’t move. That’s the country we live in, and frankly we should be ashamed.

Which all in all is why I’ve decided to move into a brand new profession. Planning. Let’s bring Wales up to scratch with places like London, Valencia, even ancient Edinburgh is doing a better job than we are. Let’s make moving here- and thus living here- viable for anyone on any income. Let’s upgrade our capital’s housing stock, let’s start car sharing clubs, let’s make sure everyone’s needs are met with the new trains. And let’s build some protected bike lanes!

I can’t wait!

Originally published on my LinkedIn. Stay in touch on Twitter.

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