Managing Traffic Signals to Alleviate Traffic and Reduce Pollution in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Key Contact
Shigeyuki Sakaki
Start Date
End Date
Funding Amount
$ 46,848
Knowledge-providing Countries
Knowledge-receiving Countries


Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) is still using hand signals at nearly all traffic intersections. To reduce pollution and manage heavy traffic, DMP and agencies related to transport needed to learn to appreciate and finish implementation of a basic traffic signal system for key intersections throughout the city.

Through study tours to key cities in India and China that have learned to manage traffic signal systems, members of DMP and other agencies in charge of Dhaka’s urban transport sector learned from peers about different generations of traffic signal systems and how to manage them through an effective inter-agency coordination. The exchange raised awareness of the importance of having an urban traffic signal system, while building both the skills and consensus to bring key authorities together in Dhaka to implement it.


In Dhaka, a city of about 10 million inhabitants, thousands of DMP constables and sergeants deployed at intersections daily use hand signals to manage traffic. Light signals are more efficient in that phases[1] can be set based on technical analysis of traffic demand. These phases can be synchronized to better manage heavy traffic and adjust capacity for the major direction of traffic flow during different times of the day. Traffic signals also more clearly indicate which direction of traffic is allowed to proceed compared to hand signals.

While some DMP authorities welcomed installment of signals, many were not convinced that traffic signals were capable of handling Dhaka’s large traffic demand with high mixture of traffic modes. DMP lacked the technical capacity and experience to efficiently manage a traffic signal system. DMP needed to train people skills, including to set cycle times, adjust phasing plans, and enforce traffic light laws. Deploying traffic signals effectively also has to take place in a broader context, such as adjusting driver’s training to educate drivers to obey traffic signals. Some police personnel were also concerned that traffic signals would come at the expense of police jobs.


Traffic signals are relatively new to Dhaka where heavy traffic can saturate roads. Nine traffic signals installed in the city for the first time in 2001-02 were followed by 59 more in 2005. These became dysfunctional after a couple of years due to lack of maintenance. Understanding the need to modernize to improve traffic flow—which in addition to alleviating congestion also helps reduce pollution and GHG emissions—the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), through the Dhaka City Corporation, aimed to install traffic signals at 100 key intersections city wide.

Lessons Learned

  • Study tours can be a powerful tool to transfer knowledge and strengthen coordination between agencies. South-South knowledge exchange in general can be very powerful, not only for knowledge transfer but also for bonding the institutions together.
  • The design of the program was simple and is easy to replicate.
  • It is important to maintain coordination among participants so that they can implement and adapt planned activities.
  • The potential for job losses is sometimes an obstacle to reforms. In this case, there was a fear that police officers would lose jobs. While not discussed in the study tours, the participants agreed later that the presence of police staff at intersections remains required even after the start of traffic signal operation because of low public adherence to traffic rules.

Beneficiaries / Participants

The participants of the exchange with China were Bangladesh government officials relevant to the operation of traffic signals:

  • Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP),
  • Dhaka South and North City Corporation (DSCC/DNCC),
  • Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA),
  • Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges (MoRTB),
  • Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA),
  • Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF),
  • Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (MOLGRD&C).

World Bank Contribution

The exchange directly relates to the ongoing World Bank Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project.  A country Environmental Assessment (2006) conducted jointly by GoB and the World Bank identified air pollution as the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in Bangladesh. Since 2010, CASE has implemented demonstration projects to improve air quality and safe mobility in Dhaka. Its Transport Component repairs traffic signals at 70 intersections and installation of traffic signals at 30 additional intersections.

Moving forward

DMP and DSCC/DNCC agreed to start operating traffic signals under the World Bank CASE project through a small, sustainable traffic signal management system. The South-South knowledge exchange helped inform design of the Additional Financing for the CASE project, which included remote and other traffic management equipment purchased for DMP. The authorities decided to procure a remote-control device in 2017, and the supplier delivered a prototype device for testing in March, 2018, with the final product due in June, 2018.

DMP has also requested funding to establish a Traffic Engineering Unit within DMP so that DMP can manage system enforcement and engineering. The Ministry of Home Affairs has approved the request, which is now pending Ministry of Public Administration approval.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police and traffic authorities have also asked for more knowledge exchanges to see examples of advanced practices in more cities as the problem is so large and there are so many issues to understand.


Enhanced knowledge and skills. The study tours exposed field staff to technologies and methods to manage traffic. DMP officers learned the benefit of traffic signals and how to plan signal phasing, signal synchronization, traffic rule enforcement at intersections, and maintenance of signal equipment. DMP and DNCC/DSCC also gained better understanding of a suitable institutional setup for effective signal operation. They learned what impact traffic signals have made in improving urban transport, how the institutions train staff to plan, enforce, and maintain traffic signal systems. The exchange also displayed the city-wide institutional set up needed to efficiently plan and manage traffic signal infrastructure. This covered broader issues, such as the need for adding respect for traffic signals to driver education.


  • Bangladesh: Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Dhaka South and North City Corporation (DSCC/DNCC), Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges (MoRTB), Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA), Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF), and Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (MOLGRD&C).
  • China: Wuhan PMO (Project Management Office), Wuhan Police Department.
  • India: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Mumbai Traffic Police, Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority (MMRDA), Delhi Traffic Police

Learn More

Supported World Bank Project: Bangladesh Clean Air and Sustainable Environment Project :


Story Author: Aldo Morri