City wants to keep 2018 bike week traffic loop despite lawsuit

Myrtle Beach argues without its Memorial Day traffic loop that all people in the city could face harm and the municipality could be hamstrung if forced to implement one safety plan for all events.

The city filed an opposition to a preliminary injunction request by the NAACP to stop implementation of the 2018 version of the 23-mile loop during the holiday week.

The NAACP filed the request to stop the planning for the 2018 loop as part of its lawsuit against the City and its police department. The suit claimed discrimination related to Atlantic Beach Bike Week, commonly referred to as "Black Bike Week."

The crux of the lawsuit pertains to a 23-mile traffic loop implemented in 2015. City leaders started the loop after violence plagued the 2014 bike fest. That year saw eight shootings were reported along Ocean Boulevard, leaving three dead and seven injured. The loop turns Ocean Boulevard into a one-way road and funnels traffic out to George Bishop Parkway and back to Ocean Boulevard.

City leaders said the loop's purpose was to control traffic, ease congestion and reduce crime. But NAACP officials say that isn't the case. Instead, it is discriminatory and causes people to navigate traffic for hours, according to the NAACP. They also point to the fact the loop isn't implemented for similar events such as Harley Week and Carolina Country Music Fest.

The city denied the allegations in its response to the lawsuit.

While the NAACP asked for an injunction to stop this year's loop, the city in its filing argued that the organization did not meet the requirements for a judge to grant the request.

Myrtle Beach also called the NAACP's evidence of racial motivation "irrelevant" and "outdated." The statements used by the NAACP were taken out of context by people no longer associated with the city. They were made 14 years ago, the city states.

The city also argued that it does not use one traffic and safety plan for other events. In fact, each plan is tailored to meet the needs of the particular weekend.

Memorial Day weekend is unique because it's the only one with a task force and, while the Town of Atlantic Beach sponsors the event, there is a public safety impact throughout Horry County, the city contends.

Planning for the Memorial Day traffic and safety includes city and county officials in a task force, the filing reads. Its goal was to create a safe environment for all in the city during the holiday.

The city disputed the NAACP's claims that Memorial Day Weekend is similar to others, most notability Harley Week.

Many of the Harley Week events occur outside of the city, the filing contends. When the city tried to institute a helmet ordinance in 2009, many Harley Week attendees started a boycott of the city — one that continues today.

The 23-mile traffic loop on Ocean Boulevard, pictured May 29, 2016. Janet Blackmon Morgan jblackmon@thesunnews.com

In support of its arguments, the city detailed similarities and difference in safety plans during various events, including Harley Week and Memorial Day, as part of the filing.

Myrtle Beach contended its motivations behind the loop were for public safety and provided documents to show a drop in response times since the loop was instituted in 2015.

According to court documents, police response times between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. reached a peak of 5.5 minutes in 2014 during Memorial Day weekend. In 2015, that figured dropped to under five minutes. It continued to plummet reaching a low of approximately 2.5 minutes in 2016.

Comparatively, response times during Harley Week in 2014 were at 3.4 minutes, then 2.72 minutes in 2015 and jumped to nearly 4 minutes in 2016, according to the city.

Horry County Fire and Rescue response times have also seen a drop since the loop's implementation, according to court records.

Reported traffic crashes with injuries also saw a decrease from 59 in 2014 to 32 in 2015.

The city argues that if the judge grants the injunction, all people in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend could be harmed. Myrtle Beach argues the traffic loop "worked" in 2015, 16 and 17 from a public safety perspective and the NAACP did not provide evidence that in 2018 it would not work again.

The city would also lose its flexibility to adapt to events as they happen. An injunction could handcuff the city throughout the entire year if all large events have to have the same traffic and safety plan, the filing reads.

"If those strategies do not work in 2018, or if they need to be adjusted in 2018, local governments now have the flexibility to react in real time," the city's filing reads.

Memorial Day Weekend also does not involve a promoter or leader responsible for crowd behavior, which means supervision falls to local governments, the city states.