When I recently crossed the street at Ninth and Olive on the edge of downtown, I truly felt like I was in Paris. The fancy crosswalk signal there--sort of like a high-school scoreboard--used bright red electronic numerals to count down the amount of time I had to cross the street. It's the only signal of its kind in the city, and it made me feel safe and cosmopolitan. It was one of those rare moments when I felt happy about paying taxes. So I called SeaTran to find out who was responsible: Meet Joe Couples, SeaTran's senior signal operations engineer.

Couples, 40, has worked at the city for 16 years. He's a small man with a beard and a pen in his left breast pocket, with the shy, floppy demeanor of someone who buries his nose in the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

Couples heard about the traffic gadget--an item known as a "countdown pedestrian signal"--at the 1998 Institute of Transportation Engineers conference in Toronto, and he ordered one from the MUTCD's experimental section.

However, I found that Couples isn't happy about how things were working out. Couples had the special signal installed as part of a federal study to see how the gadget affects pedestrian habits. Unfortunately, observations at the Ninth and Olive spot (the parking-lot entrance to the Metro bus terminal) haven't netted much data, because the spot hasn't been as awkward and busy as anticipated. The bus terminal was supposed to be on the haul route for trucks involved in Sound Transit's light rail construction, and since Sound Transit ain't doing any construction, pedestrians there haven't had to deal with many changes. Couples frets that the experimental signal should have been set up at Seattle Center or Safeco Field.

My prideful moment with tax dollars and smart, dedicated civil servants like Joe Couples was dashed by none other than Sound Transit.