An online survey was launched in April to collect responses from citizens about their understanding and perception of Central Oklahoma’s air quality. After more than 500 responses, here are some takeaways from our non-scientific survey.
The majority of respondents were within the age range of 25 to 64 with the largest cohort being the 45 to 54 age range (24.76%) by a thin margin of just 1.76%. More than half (54.56%) of respondents were female and respondents self-identified as predominantly (86.25%) white/Caucasian. Respondents were also predominately college-educated with 44.01% holding a bachelor’s degree and 23.58% holding a master’s degree.
Respondents overwhelmingly recognized their individual actions could improve – or worsen – the air quality of Central Oklahoma (73.65%). Of the remaining respondents, more were unsure if their actions impacted air quality (17.20%) than believed their choices made no impact (9.26%).
Similarly, about half (50.75%) of the respondents said they had made changes in the past year to reduce their contribution to poor air quality; of the choices provided, respondents said they had fueled their vehicle after sunset and delayed mowing their lawn on Ozone Alert Days more than any of the other options (68.89% and 61.85%, respectively). Many of the write-in responses included the purchase of non-gas-powered lawn and yard equipment as well as the use of electric and hybrid vehicles. Other responses included:
- “Routine car maintenance (proper tire inflation etc…)”
- “combining errands into one trip instead of several trips”
- “I walk to the store. And, half the time I use a non-polluting mower (reel).”
Those who said they had not made changes were asked what changes they’d be willing to make. Again, the vast majority chose fueling their vehicle after sunset and delaying mowing their lawn on Ozone Alert Days (77.95% and 66.92%, respectively). Some of the write-in responses were interesting:
- “OK needs a commuter rail system linking OKC to Tulsa and Stillwater”
- “Would take light rail or subway if it were available”
- “on foot is bad idea because of lack of sidewalks”
If respondents understand their choices impact air quality and have or are willing to make changes to benefit air quality, we wanted to know the motivator – that is, why are they making choices with air quality in mind?
Overwhelmingly (52.90%) respondents said a concern about the health effects of poor air quality on them, their loved ones and the greater community was the best motivator to reduce their contribution to smog-forming emissions. Second (22.20%) was a concern about financial savings, especially on personal fuel and transportation costs.
A common assumption is that periods of increased fuel cost see an increase in non-single occupancy vehicle trips, meaning consumers more commonly take transit, bike, walk or carpool. When asked at what price point respondents would consider the use an alternative mode of transportation, the majority (21.65%) said they would not consider an alternate mode regardless of gas prices. More respondents said they would consider alternate modes at a price point of $4.00 to $4.49 per gallon (19.69%) than at a price of $6.00 or more per gallon (9.25%). It is interesting to note March of this year saw Oklahoma’s average gas price hit an all-time high of $3.96, just a few cents shy of that magic $4.00 mark.
We also wanted to find out more about who is walking and biking presently, not just who might in the face of costly gasoline. Unfortunately, 66.22% of respondents said they cannot walk or bike to essential destinations. The majority (73.23%) of respondents ranked distance as number one followed by the lack of sidewalks and protected bike lanes with 52.32% of the vote. Some of the write-in answers included:
- “Time limitations and inconvenience; I have two toddlers.”
- “I work only 4 miles from home but no sidewalks to walk and busy 2 lane roads, no bike lanes”
- “Limited use due to location of home vs. work. I bike/walk to and from church activities when weather permits.”
- “Lack of a comprehensive viable plan to interconnect safe routes with existing bike trail systems”
- “My work is 30 miles away and there is no public transportation between El Reno and OKC”
- “health conditions”
Those who said they were able to bike or walk were asked to identify the major problems they encounter on their commutes. 67.82% of respondents ranked “fear of cars / drivers’ lack of safety knowledge” first and 48.28% ranked “lack of trails / sidewalks” second. Additionally, a handful of respondents provided write-in responses including:
- “some traffic signals not sensitive to bicycles require a car to trigger”
- “lack of adequate crossings at intersections”
- “’Paved’ city and county roads in miserable, unsafe condition for cyclists, or even when I am a motorcycle person”
- “No bike racks!!!!!”
Finally, we asked respondents to estimate their average work commute travel time. A little more than a quarter (28.16%) of respondents said 21 to 30 minutes. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey found the national average commute is 25.5 minutes so perhaps that’s no surprise. What was surprising, however, was that the second largest response indicated that 17.86% of respondents had a commute of more than 30 minutes.
Of course our incentive to complete the survey was the awarding of an electric 19-inch Black & Decker cordless mulching rear bag mower. After randomizing all of the participating respondents the winner was Gary Caplinger of Oklahoma City. Congratulations to Gary and here’s hoping he puts that electric mower to good use.
Overall, this survey and the responses therein will help us craft a better understanding of how to communicate with the public about air quality and transportation issues. Thanks to all the respondents who participated in not only the survey itself but in promoting and sharing the survey with their friends, co-workers, employers and families.