One image associated with North Korea is the never-ending avenues of Pyongyang stretching into the distance, empty of cars, serving merely as decoration. But over the last three years, this cliché had become increasingly outdated, as Jean Echenoz reminded us in a recent novel, after a few perceptive journalists pointed out this change in North Korean society.
For recently, traffic had been growing constantly heavier. Not to the point of congesting the capital or seriously disrupting the daily life of Pyongyangites, of course; but the main roads in the centre, around the station, along the Taedong river, and heading towards Nampho were at last experiencing some heavier traffic, and even traffic jams, which the graceful policewomen at the crossroads would try to resolve.
Faced with this growing problem, the authorities introduced a new traffic regulation in Pyongyang: since January, there has been an alternate driving scheme, where cars with even number plates circulate only on even days, and vice versa. For good measure, taxis - which are also on the rise and very active - have been prohibited on noble roads and near places with high symbolic value.
This measure is proving effective and restoring to the capital its monumental, open, majestic appearance, which constantly reminds passers-by of the special nature of the city they are walking through. Overnight, Pyongyang has become a city of pedestrians and cyclists once again, or almost. A return to the clichés of yesteryear.