CROSSWALK TIMERS….In Washington DC, all the crosswalks have countdown timers that tell you exactly how much time you have left to cross the street. As Jim Henley suggested after we had dinner Monday night, this is very cool ? and I give him credit for admitting that a government agency has made a positive contribution to the welfare of mankind.

But there’s something awfully strange about these timers: counting down to zero means different things at different intersections. At some intersections, when the timer hits zero the light immediately turns red and cross traffic starts barreling toward you. At other intersections, the light turns yellow and you still have a few seconds to hustle across the street. And at yet other intersections, it seems to mean….nothing. There’s no cross traffic, no left turn traffic, no nothing. You can continue on your way for some unspecified time until suddenly a light somewhere turns green and traffic starts rolling again.

The countdown timers are indeed cool. In fact, they’re a fine, small-bore example of the “New Progressivism” that we’re trumpeting on this month’s cover: a way of giving the regular guy (DC’s pedestrians) more control and more choice when dealing with both government bureaucracies (DC’s Dept. of Transportation) and the corporate sector (DC’s taxicabs). But they could be even better if they meant the same thing at every intersection.