Myrtle Beach subcommittee to recommend themed routes, marketing program to make city more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly

Myrtle Beach could have a series of routes throughout the city linking commercial centers with areas where visitors, workers and residents go to improve the connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians if a city planning commission subcommittee’s recommendations are implemented.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee is preparing to present a series of recommendations for making the city more bicycle- and pedestrian- friendly while increasing safety to the Planning Commission, and then, the group’s members plan to take their ideas before the Myrtle Beach City Council.

The recommended “iconic loop routes” would be marketed around themes such as bike the beach, bike to hike, and bike to fish and connect to existing trails and pathways including the East Coast Greenway and the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.

Other suggestions range from working to compile a list of critical infrastructure needs – such as bike lanes and sidewalks – to creating a marketing and education campaign to promote walking and cycling use, safety and laws.

“I think we need to recommend that City Council appoint a surviving form of this committee and having the City Manager put a staff member on the committee,” said Bill Pritchard, who chairs the subcommittee.

The group – which includes members from city staff, Horry County staff, Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, Coast RTA and some with other backgrounds – expects to meet one more time before presenting to the Planning Commission.

Safety is a constant concern for those who ride bikes for recreation or as a means of transportation, and who gathered Thursday evening for a ride of silence to honor bicyclists who’ve been hit by vehicles and raise awareness.

Four bicyclists died in the Myrtle Beach area last summer, with two of them being in city limits. On July 10, Jimmy Ray Westmoreland, 75, crashed his bicycle and suffered a head injury when a vehicle turned in front of him at Beach Place and North Ocean Boulevard about 8:15 a.m. that day, Myrtle Beach police said. Two days later, Westmoreland died and charges were upgraded against James Junior Littles, 46, of Loris in the crash.

On July 31, Myrtle Beach police were called to Ninth Avenue North and Kings Highway at about 10 a.m. where they found 20-year-old Olha Marchuk Craig had struck a Coast RTA bus that was traveling south on Kings Highway. Police did not find the bus driver to be at fault, saying Craig was riding on the sidewalk and failed to yield at the intersection.

“The more I’m out there the more I realize how dangerous it can be and the stigma that can be attached to [cycling],” said Andre Pope, who helped organize the Ride of Silence.

Pritchard said he recognizes that the subcommittee has done a lot of research on the topic, but wants to make sure the recommendations are clear and concise.

“It’s difficult to decide what’s important enough to be carried forward to present to council for the 10 minutes we’ll probably have their attention,” he said. “This is probably not a high priority with them ... especially since they’re dealing with the budget and other things now.”

Diane Moskow-McKenzie, senior planner with Myrtle Beach, said city staff is working to make sure the subcommittee’s presentation is concise while making sure to share important safety statistics.

“It’s significant, the number of injuries we have here and the number of deaths we’ve had here,” she said.

There were six pedestrian deaths in Myrtle Beach 2013 in addition to the two bicyclists who died.

Pope, who said he cycles to and from his job at Horry-Georgetown Technical College as well as for recreation, said he thinks education is incredibly important if the city wants to improve safety.

“Cyclists need to be educated ... but so do the driving public,” he said. “We all have to obey the rules of the law and know what they are.”

The subcommittee also plans to recommend the city adopt bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure design and maintenance standards, something Pope said he supports.

“It’s hard because when we first built our infrastructure here we weren’t thinking about things like [bicyclists and pedestrians],” he said. “Even now when we build a new road they put in rumble strips to protect motorists so they don’t fall asleep at the wheel, but then the bicyclists have to move into the road to ride. You’re trying to protect one while you endanger someone else.”

Other recommendations include conducting a city-wide review of high volume intersections and associated pedestrian and bicycle signage, and promoting walking, running and cycling infrastructure as part of the city’s sports tourism efforts.

He said he’s served on committees over the years where the suggestions made took years to come to fruition.

“We’re going to plant seeds and they may not grow for several years,” he said.