Traffic jams and the loop irritate locals, bikers at Bikefest
City officials say Myrtle Beach’s 23-mile traffic loop during Atlantic Beach Bikefest was a success in moving traffic and ensuring public safety last weekend.
But the loop, which was scheduled from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. over Memorial Day weekend with few exits for drivers moving through central Myrtle Beach, was a drag for some business owners.
Billy Boggs of BJ’s Scooter Rentals said the changed traffic patterns and new rules that affect moped rentals combined to create a particularly unprofitable situation.
“I got employees here. Thank God most of them are family,” Boggs said Tuesday. “I lost everything this weekend, I mean literally everything.”
Before the traffic pattern, Boggs said, “I was making $30,000 to $40,000, sometimes $50,000 on Memorial [Day] weekend.”
This year, he said he took in $6,200 in revenue, a far cry from the $45,000 he had recently spent on new inventory.
But Mayor John Rhodes said the loop is necessary, despite potential costs, to ensure traffic moves in a set pattern to stem potentially dangerous situations.
“Our first concern is how do we maintain control and safety for our visitors,” Rhodes said Thursday. “We’re going to continue to focus on that.”
Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach is a time when drivers expect spillover from Atlantic Beach Bikefest, a rally of mostly black bikers that has long expanded to other areas along the Grand Strand.
In addition to heavy vehicle traffic, local officials may brace for violence — in 2014, eight shootings injured seven people and left three dead.
There were no shootings this year during the weekend, said Lt. Joey Crosby of the Myrtle Beach Police Department. While the city has not released its official statistics on crime and arrests, he said Tuesday that an initial review appeared to show fewer vehicle collisions and less crime overall.
But businesses have to make big adjustments to cope with the traffic loop that the city is crediting, in part, for a safe weekend.
Michelle Kerscher of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove said the store’s sales were about 70 percent lower than is typical at this time of year.
Several side streets also were blocked off, making access to Ocean Boulevard difficult for the Gay Dolphin’s clientele, who usually drive past the store and then park nearby to visit, she said.
“We understand why we have to have [the changes], but it definitely hurts business,” Kerscher said.
The store also closed at 9 p.m., earlier than normal, so that its employees wouldn’t be caught in the loop, which is narrowed to one lane along Ocean Boulevard. Some area restaurants also say they had to close early.
Misty Coan, owner of Lulu’s Cafe near 19th Avenue North, said that her customers come mainly from foot traffic — so the barricades in place along the sidewalk throughout the weekend can sometimes funnel patrons to the eatery.
But, she said, the city should examine whether the loop is necessary every year.
“I think it’s something that needs to be fluid,” Coan said. “If there’s not that many people here, then we need to change it.”
This year, officials and business owners agreed that crowds for the event were lighter, causing police to slightly limit their use of the 23-mile traffic pattern.
The loop was removed 30 minutes early on both Friday and Saturday nights, and was not put in place on Sunday. Incoming storms that night threatened the safety of officers who would have had to patrol the loop, Crosby said.
But Councilman Randal Wallace said he was wary of making changes to the city’s traffic plan, despite lighter crowds.
“I’m leery to back up, because at one point this event had a dip in the mid-2000s, where we thought the size had become very manageable,” Wallace said. “And then the next thing, bam, we’ve got three people dead at the Bermuda Sands [in 2014].”
“I have a healthy respect for what this event can turn into.”
Staff writer Elizabeth Townsend contributed to this report.