Tony Dutzik speaks about the potential local investment in cycling has to help the U.S. reach the Paris climate accords' emissions goals. (Ph

Tony Dutzik speaks about the potential local investment in cycling has to help the U.S. reach the Paris climate accords’ emissions goals. (Photo: Nicolas Rivero/MEDILL)

WASHINGTON — It’s up to local communities to find ways to reduce U.S. transportation emissions because the federal government is unlikely to lead the way, some environmental leaders and government officials said Monday.

Last December, Congress passed the FAST Act, a five-year transportation funding bill which “largely maintains current program structures and funding shares between highways and transit,” according to the Transportation Department’s website,

Helena Zyblikewycz, a staffer for Oregon Rep. Peter Defazio, ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said greater funding in the bill for “non-highway projects,” or provisions that would lower America’s carbon emissions, just wasn’t doable in a tough political climate.

So, along with officials from environmental groups and local governments, Zyblikewycz spoke on a panel at this year’s National Biking Summit about the promise of local investment in cycling as a low-cost, realistic way to reduce carbon emissions.

“Bicycling investment today is the right product at the right time,” said Kevin McCarty, deputy director of transportation issues for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “You can invest in bicycling and see some progress for a relatively modest amount of money.”

McCarty said small projects are advantageous “in an environment where we don’t like government anymore.”

But the United States and 194 other countries signed onto a big project at the Paris climate summit last year: keeping the global climate no more than 3.6 degrees warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

“If you play out the numbers,” said Tony Duztik, a senior policy analyst on climate and transportation for the Frontier Group, “what it means is that the United States has got to decarbonize its transportation system by 2050. Essentially, we have to get from where we are now to zero.”

In the meantime, McCarty said the mayors that he represents are “throwing in the towel” on getting federal dollars for local transportation projects. Instead, he said, those with ideas for transit projects “are flooding into the local market to get every pet rock funded locally.”

Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the US Climate Action Network, said her organization has also “defederalized” its efforts to live up to the momentous promise of the Paris deal, which she said “signaled the end of the fossil fuel era.”

“Where the action is, is where you are working,” she told a room of about 20 local bike activists, “and we need you.”