“We have to balance the needs of all road users” is an over-used phrase which can be found in consultation summaries and is often used by politicians to counter claims that active travel hasn’t been enabled.
Language is of course used for communication, but it is easy to misrepresent what someone has said and in some cases, people will deliberately misrepresent to make their point. It is therefore useful to have a look at the definition of the word “balance”;
So, from the basic Google search we get;
1. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. “she lost her balance and fell”
synonyms: stability, equilibrium, steadiness, footing “I tripped and lost my balance”
2. a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. “the obligations of political balance in broadcasting”
synonyms: fairness, justice, impartiality, egalitarianism, equal opportunity;
1. put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall. “a mug that she balanced on her knee”
synonyms: steady, stabilise;
2. offset or compare the value of (one thing) with another. “the cost of obtaining such information needs to be balanced against its benefits”
synonyms: weigh, weigh up, compare, evaluate, consider, assess, appraise, estimate “it is a matter of balancing advantages against disadvantages”
The use of the word where our streets are concerned is pretty much universally selected by people who are either scared of tackling the current approach or as cop-out to maintain the status-quo by those with something to gain from it.
The “even distribution” argument is that which is often applied to so-called shared space (which is a terrible catch-all term in its own right) where it is expected that everyone will be able to share nicely and that all road users have equal weight (they might have equal rights to be there, but might is right). This of course is just not true – a person walking does not physically possess the same weight as a lorry being driven and a fit young male will approach the same street far differently than a young child or someone who is frail and cannot walk very fast. If balance was truly in accordance with the misrepresented position, then we’d see our A-road high streets full of people crossing where they want (and with no stress) and people cycling everywhere. We don’t see this and so this use of balance is nonsense.
This has roots in the misrepresentation of equality. Again, the term is often abused to mean that everyone should be treated equally; everyone on the same footing if you will. This is of course nonsense because on the street, if we assume that everyone is equal, then how come we can have someone drive aggressively and then hit a child? True equality comes from enabling everyone to have the same opportunity. On the streets, this means we must use engineering to ensure those who need help and protection get it and in doing so, we actually make things better for everyone. This is what balance actually means. Changing our street layouts and networks so that “a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions” is absolutely what we need to do.