The Auriol Grey case and pavement cycling

Picture of Auriol Grey, a white woman in her late 40s. She is wearing glasses, a maroon top with a dark blue jacket or coat over it.
Auriol Grey

Last week a woman who had been imprisoned for (allegedly) causing the death of a cyclist she encountered on a pavement in Huntingdon, a small town in eastern England, and waved her arms and shouted at her not to cycle on the footpath (which is usually illegal, though there was ambiguity about that in this case), causing her to fall off her bike into the path of a passing motorist, was released from prison as her conviction was quashed. It appears that her conviction was for “illegal act manslaughter”, in which an illegal act (such as assault in this case) leads to someone’s death without intent, and there was no proof that she actually attacked the cyclist rather than merely wave her arms and shout, neither of which is a crime. Auriol Grey is 50 (46 at the time), visually impaired and has cerebral palsy (she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder while in prison; more on that aspect here); the cyclist was Celia Ward, a 77-year-old retired midwife, who rode on the pavement because she was partially deaf.

Some footpaths in the UK are shared paths, meaning that they can be used by pedestrians and cyclists. Most are not; it is illegal to cycle on them other than for children too young to ride on the road. I had someone tell me on Twitter that the footpath here was a shared path and that this was accepted by the judge and jury at the original trial, meaning that Celia Ward was well within her rights to cycle there; a brief look at the road on Google Street View showed that there were no nearby signs indicating it to be shared (this would be a blue circular sign with a pedestrian and a bicycle on it). There was one such sign a few hundred metres up, past three side turnings from the site of the incident, but none nearby and none in the direction Auriol Grey had come from. It also has none of the usual characteristics of a shared path; shared paths are usually separated from the road by a grass verge and have clearly marked exits for cyclists onto other paths or the road. This has none; it is just a raised footpath interrupted regularly by side roads. The path is narrow and has obstructive signpost and traffic light poles. No responsible cyclist would use it. It was also absent from maps produced by the council for cyclists and the council had no record of it being designated as one (as that’s what makes a footpath a shared path: a council decision). So, if this person on Twitter was telling the truth, the ‘evidence’ for it being a shared path was that cycling on this stretch of footpath was common and being tolerated, despite being plainly dangerous.

Of course, cycling on the pavement isn’t a crime worthy of death. Nobody says it is. But it is understandable that a person with both a physical and a visual impairment, startled by (yet another) cyclist coming towards her on a narrow pavement, got angry and remonstrated with her. Maybe she knew the cyclist was an elderly lady; maybe she registered neither her age nor her sex, just that here was a bike speeding towards her. The BBC News report noted the fact that Grey did not stop after the incident, but carried on her way before the emergency services arrived and bought groceries; it does appear that such oddities about Grey’s character formed much of the narrative about the incident, in contrast to the nice old midwife who died. I suspect that if the cyclist was a 35-year-old man, the judge and jury might have seen the matter rather differently, but in that case it’s likely to have been the pedestrian who came off worse.

In recent times I have noticed that the attitudes of both cyclists and motorists have become more hardline and much angrier than had been the case in previous years. As more cycle lanes have been built, drivers get angry when cyclists fail to use them, regardless of whether there is a good reason. Cycle lanes are installed in places where they aren’t needed, often at the expense of not only traffic lanes but also bus lanes. Only yesterday, I was nearly knocked off my bike in New Malden by a van driver at a stretch of road which had been narrowed for a cycle lane which was on the wrong side of the road for my turning. I see dashcam videos in which “entitled cyclists” are filmed jumping lights or riding on pavements and the fact that the cyclist looked out for traffic is used against them, while cyclists go round looking for confrontations with motorists. Sometimes it’s safer for cyclists to be away from moving traffic and to have a head start, hence the red light jumping, and sometimes a cyclist using the pavement for a short distance allows traffic to pass and endangers nobody. However, no cyclist should be using footways habitually for routine journeys when there are perfectly good roads to cycle on; they are not made for that. Like the scene of this tragic accident, they are often narrow, obstructed and interrupted constantly with side turnings. Young or old, we should be using the road or paths designed for cycling on for our journeys and leaving footpaths for people on foot.

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