Ocean Boulevard’s traffic pattern will not change in its busy downtown district, Myrtle Beach City Council decided Tuesday.
Mayor John Rhodes directed the city manager to continue to find ways to send more police to the area, but in a near consensus from council, the area from Ninth Avenue North to 14th Avenue North will not reduce to three lanes from the current four.
A crowd of merchants at a special city council meeting was at times raucous as council talked through multiple options for the area. Myrtle Beach renewed its focus on Ocean Boulevard after a string of shootings in April, some of which were near the thoroughfare. Rhodes said shop owners, specifically the members of the Oceanfront Merchants Association, need to continue working with the city to find a way to curb crime.
“It’s gonna have to be a team effort to help get control of what’s going on on the boulevard,” he said.
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But merchants spent most of the morning arguing vigorously against the proposal from City Manager John Pedersen, which they said would stop people from coming to the boulevard, parking and actually patronizing their stores.
When visitors are able to drive along that section of the boulevard easily, “They come and they see ‘yeah there’s a lot of shops open, we can park here,’” said Michelle Kerscher of The Gay Dolphin and OMA.
Pedersen said Tuesday morning the traffic change was intended to stop pedestrians from interacting with cars, and would help more traffic move smoothly.
Business owners clashed with that idea.
“Those people on the sidewalks, they will jump over cars if they want to interact with someone to get to them,” said Russ Stalvey, owner of the Oceanfront Bar and Grill.
Shop owners also argued that a single center lane would not provide enough room for the volume of deliveries they receive every day.
Several options were discussed by officials and shop owners to help the stretch. Merchants argued for more visible police presence, which also was brought up by several members of council.
“I know for 100 percent certainty that there must be a significant law enforcement presence on that boulevard, and there must be aggressive enforcement taking place,” Councilman Mike Lowder said.
Elected officials also have discussed treating the boulevard like a “special event” on big weekends. During large festivities like Carolina Country Music Festival, the city will pull officers from surrounding jurisdictions to help and use extra resources to help monitor and corral crowds.
That may be the new norm on summer weekends. S.C. Highway Patrol officers assisted last weekend, and the city already has asked the Horry County Sheriff’s Office to help next weekend, Pedersen said.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat went a step further, and suggested leaving up barricades between the sidewalk and the road all the way from Memorial Day weekend to the end of CCMF, in June.
The idea elicited shouts from business owners in the crowd.
“Memorial Day is a loser!” one person yelled.