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Around China: When traffic jams in Tibet

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

LHASA, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- The standard outfit for a Tibetan man was once a "horse, gun and clasp knife". Now a car (and some time to kill in traffic jams) is the latest lifestyle choice on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

As of Nov. 30, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region had 307,170 registered vehicles, 16 percent up on last year. With a population just a shade over 3 million, this means that about one in ten people in Tibet own a car. In 2000 and 2006, the figures were one person in 34 and one in 20.

"I have had to dig out my old bicycle as the traffic jams get worse and worse," said Wangchen, a government employee in Lhasa who used to deliver documents to other departments by car.

"It is not unusual to be stuck on the road for over half an hour. The bicycle is faster than the car most of the time," he said.

About half a century ago, the only car in Tibet was a present given to the 14th Dalai Lama, which arrived on the Plateau in its component parts, carried in the pack saddles of mules. In 2012, Tibet had 65,200 km of metalled road with pavement linking nearly all of its counties and townships.

It is a very sudden change for people in Tibet to see traffic jams and to be scrambling for parking spaces.

"I can hardly ever find a parking space and have to park hundreds of meters away from my son's school," said Lhadron, a Lhasa resident who works in a local TV station.

It has become Lhadron's daily headache to get off work and pick up her son before the street in front the school "becomes a parking lot for downtown Lhasa."

Tibet has had a consecutive double-digit growth in the past two decades. "Thanks to increased affluence, more and more herdsmen drive their children to receive better education in Lhasa and other cities," said Wangchen of a neighborhood committee in Baingoin County, about nine hours drive from Lhasa.

The government has even prepared hi-viz vests for religious pilgrims to ensure their safety as they pray and prostrate themeslves along the roads from their hometowns to Lhasa.

Struggling to deal with the daily jams and parking problems, Lhasa has built ten pedestrian overpasses and more parking lots while starting new bus routes in the last two years.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/xinhua-news-agency/131203/around-china-when-traffic-jams-tibet