A Pedestrian’s Humble Request

I’ve written about the dangers cyclists face while navigating through vehicular traffic in American cities.  Now I’d like to add an appeal about a constituency that is even nearer and dearer to my heart: pedestrians.

For the most part, drivers are courteous to pedestrians like me — when they see them.  And therein lies the problem.

The big safety issue with downtown walking, in my view, is right turn on red.  Consider the following scenario that you’ve likely encountered during your driving day.  You approach an intersection in a city and you want to turn right.  You move out into the crosswalk to get a better viewpoint and see past those tall buildings that come right out to the sidewalk and block your view.  You crane your neck, peering intently to the left to see any traffic that might be approaching from that direction.  If you don’t see any to the left, you hit the gas and move ahead into that right turn.

But consider — what if a luckless pedestrian is walking toward you from the right?  He knows he has the right of way if he crosses with the “walk” sign in the crosswalk.  He might not even have been visible as you drove up to the intersection because his approach was blocked by a building on the right.  If you turn right without first looking right to see if a walker is there and he crosses just as you make your turn, the results aren’t going to be happy for either of you — but at least you’ll survive the encounter.

In my walks to and from work, I’ve seen this circumstance again and again, and the driver almost never looks to the right to see me entering the intersection.  If I don’t see them looking at me, I’ll stop rather than taking a chance of getting crushed by tons of rolling metal — and often the drivers just make the right turn, completely unaware of my presence and the fact that their inattention risks a terrible and entirely preventable accident.

So do me a favor, motorists:  Before you move out into the crosswalk and block it in advance of that right turn on red, look both ways and make sure no pedestrians are coming.  If they are near, let them have the crosswalk, unimpeded, that is their legal right of way.  Once they’ve gone, you can make that right turn.

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The Arc Of Playboy

Playboy has announced that, beginning next March, it will no longer feature photographs of completely naked women.  Sure, there will still be a “Playmate of the Month” — whether there will be a centerfold is still up in the air — but the pictures will be of the PG-13 variety, with women in provocative poses.  It will be part of a redesign of the magazine, which will continue to feature interviews and articles and fiction and a sex columnist but will have more content about liquor and more visual art.

Playboy is struggling to remain relevant in today’s internet world, where photographs of naked women, and beyond, can be found with a few keystrokes.  First published in 1953, Playboy has long been credited for helping to usher in an America with a less puritanical attitude about sex — but its high point passed by decades ago.  Its best-selling issue, which sold more than 7 million copies, was published in November 1972.  Its circulation is down to about 800,000 now.  Other magazines that featured similar content no longer exist.

I haven’t seen a Playboy in years, but I remember the ’60s and ’70s, where Playboy was sold in drugstores from a little rack, separate from the rest of the magazines.  Sometimes the rack was behind the counter, but sometimes it was tantalizingly placed out in the store itself, potentially available to inspection by curious teenage boys who’d heard about it from other kids at school.  Would they have the nerve to pick up a copy and quickly riffle its pages, hoping to catch a peek at a bare breast and not be yelled at by the shopkeeper or humiliatingly seen by a Mom in the neighborhood?  Those days are long gone.

I’m not wistful about the arc of Playboy‘s rise and decline; I’ve often thought that Hugh Hefner is one of those people who has skillfully managed the media to obtain better press and more attention than his actual cultural significance merits.  But Playboy‘s decision to yield the field to the porn sites is an interesting development.  Playboy‘s website stopped displaying nude photos some time ago, and it reports that the average age of its website visitors declined — the teenage boy effect, perhaps? — and its web traffic increased.

Now they will try that experiment with the magazine, and we will finally learn the answer to an age-old question:  do people actually read Playboy for the articles?