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‘Just looking for everybody to be safe’: Myrtle Beach preps for Atlantic Beach Bikefest

Public safety is the priority as law enforcement agencies throughout Horry County prepare for bikers to roll in to Myrtle Beach for Atlantic Beach Bikefest Memorial Day weekend.

Following months of preparation, over two dozen police officials and members of the Atlantic Beach Bikefest Task force gathered at the General Aviation Terminal in Myrtle Beach for the final time before the annual bikefest, also known as Black Bike Week, begins May 24. While the meeting lasted no more than five minutes, officials assured their confidence in sustaining public safety and communication during the weekend.

“We have focused our efforts on making this a safe weekend and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Myrtle Beach police chief Amy Prock said. “Public safety is a shared responsibility, and we have worked very hard with our community, with our visitors, with our business owners and operators, as well as all of our (law enforcement) partners here.”

Myrtle Beach police held four informational forums last month informing residents and business owners on what to expect when thousands of bikers start making their way into the city. Despite attendance during the bike event declining over the years, officials anticipate a heavy presence and will implement the traffic loop that weekend.

The one-way, 23-mile loop begins at 29th Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard, then moves south to Kings Highway near the Myrtle Beach Airport, up Harrelson Boulevard to U.S. 501, onto northbound S.C. 31, down southbound Robert Grissom Parkway to U.S. Highway 17 Bypass, and back onto Ocean Boulevard.

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“We’ve been very successful over the past several years of reaching our objective of creating a safe environment for our citizens and our attendees,” Captain Joey Crosby said.

While police believe the traffic pattern is effective in monitoring traffic and public safety, the loop has been the subject of controversy since the city implemented it in 2015 after three men were killed in a shooting incident during the 2014 Bikefest.

The NAACP filed a lawsuit last year over the loop, asserting it’s discriminatory and not used during other weekends, most notably the springtime Harley bike week that starts this weekend. While the judge sided with the city to allow the loop, the NAACP struck back in February, asking a judge to once again block the loop, citing discrimination and ever-changing city defenses.

Despite the ongoing suit, Myrtle Beach officials said the loop will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, but hours are subject to change if traffic is light.

Crosby stressed any business impacted by the traffic pattern needs to have a plan in place for their employees and customers. He added those coming in from out of town should also plan ahead.

“Prepare now,’ Crosby said. “Plan before you come.”

During the loop’s off hours, drivers can only access Ocean Boulevard at any Kings Highway intersection with a traffic light. However, four avenues — 8th Avenue North, 16th Avenue North, 6th Avenue South and 17th Avenue South — will be closed off for emergency use.

Barricades will be placed along Ocean Boulevard ensuring pedestrians remain on sidewalks and use crosswalks. There will also be heavy police presence along Ocean Boulevard and within the loop pattern with Crosby estimating roughly 475 law enforcement officials from agencies in South Carolina and Georgia.

To avoid any confusion, signage and message boards will be placed throughout the city notifying residents and visitors of the loop, and pamphlets will be passed out at the airport, car rental agencies and hotels. Motorists are encouraged to use the 24-hour hotline — 843-916-4636 — through the weekend for help or directions or to check social media for traffic information.

“Overall, our approach is exactly the same,” task force chairman Randy Webster said. “We look at this from a standpoint of overall coordination and make sure all the municipalities are working together as they are. We’re just looking for everybody to be safe and have a great time.”

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Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.
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