The 23-mile traffic loop for Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest that was aimed to streamline the traditional traffic of motorcycles and souped-up cars turned into a loop of mostly common cars and some frustrated drivers trying to get on Ocean Boulevard.
Sporadic sightings of exotic motorcycles among a line of vehicles, which at times experienced gaping holes multiple blocks long down South Ocean Boulevard Friday night, were part of the first night’s traffic loop that was in effect from 10 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday.
Late-night visitors to the annual motorcycle festival lined both sides of Ocean Boulevard on sidewalks that were blocked off by steel barricades to prevent crowd spillover onto the busy road. Police patrolling the crawling traffic also made sure to make rounds up and down the boulevard to keep foot traffic moving.
County officials said late Friday the loop, intended to ease congestion on the boulevard, was having the desired effect.
“It’s going as planned,” Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said at about 11:45 p.m. Friday. “Traffic countywide is not bad, actually.”
As of midnight, Myrtle Beach police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby said the loop was operating smoothly. Most of the loop was up and operational by 10:30 p.m., Crosby said.
Officers at Third Avenue South and Ocean Boulevard closed off that intersection about 10:50 p.m.
Officers started closing off 29th Avenue North around 11 p.m. and directed traffic into the loop, which runs down 29th Avenue North to Ocean Boulevard. Motorcycles and vehicles were stalled for at least an hour on 29th Avenue when congestion on Ocean Boulevard caused a backup of traffic.
The traffic didn’t bother Mike Gaddy, who was watching motorcycles pass in front of Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant with his son Tanner. Though he lives in Plantation Point, he didn’t plan to travel into the loop unless it was necessary.
“I didn’t even know much about it until a couple of days ago,” Gaddy said. “Most of the time we’re going to be in bed between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.”
The traffic loop – and some congestion caused by it – wasn’t a problem for Gaddy.
“If it makes navigating everything easier for law enforcement, that’s good,” he said.
Traffic on Ocean Boulevard was at a standstill at times, but the congestion cleared up considerably around 3 a.m. The road was nearly empty at U.S. 17 Bypass in Myrtle Beach around that time.
Myrtle Beach police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby said at 3 a.m. the traffic loop ran smoothly and without incident.
Crosby said all Ocean Boulevard intersections that were to be opened according to the traffic – all that have lights on Kings Highway except for Eighth Avenue North and Sixth and 17th avenues South, which are for use by emergency vehicles only – were open shortly after 2 a.m.
Lt. Raul Denis of the Horry County Police Department was working at the Joint Information Center through Friday night into Saturday and said at 2 a.m. the loop seemed successful.
“Everything seems to be working out OK,” Denis said. “We’ve seen a couple of fatal accidents, unfortunately, but it doesn’t seem like it’s anything we could have prevented.”
On Friday, Ed Daniel Leatherwood, 38, of Rex, Ga., died after he ran a red light about 3 p.m. Friday, slamming his 2008 Honda motorcycle into a boat towed by a pick-up truck, county police said. The driver of the truck was making a left turn into a drive near Barefoot Landing.
Later Friday, 52-year-old Thomas Martin, of Henderson, N.C., died of injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash on U.S. 17 near S.C. 22. The crash involved multiple motorcycles and vehicles and backed up traffic in both directions near Myrtle Beach Mall.
As for within the loop, Denis said, “So far it’s been a well-behaved crowd and we haven’t had any issues.”
Denis said full reports won’t be in until Saturday morning and he didn’t know if law enforcement officials needed to meet about changes.
“The Emergency Operations Center and our other operational command centers are all operational, so those guys are evaluating information as it comes in,” Denis said. “If the command staff determines that changes need to be made [on Saturday], I will be made aware of that later on in the day.”
Crowds were smaller than in years past, according to Bikefest attendees on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach early Saturday morning.
Most said they weren’t aware of the changes made by Grand Strand officials to get control of the violence that occurred last year.
“It’s definitely going to discourage people from coming back,” said Lin Jefferson of College Park, Md., who has been coming to Myrtle Beach on Memorial Day weekend for the past three years. “I don’t think it’s necessary for it to be as strong as this – the cops went overboard. A cop on every corner? It’s not that serious.”
Many said they were unaware of the 23-mile traffic loop before getting to town. Officials tried to spread the word about the loop in recent months through websites and hotels notifying those with reservations.
“I didn’t know about the loop,” Jefferson said. “The only reason I know now is because [a] really friendly man came up to us with a laminated map.”
The loop routes drivers from 29th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
Officials said establishing a loop, in effect nightly Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., is aimed at keeping traffic moving, because congestion leads to “parking lot parties” that could lead to violence.
The loop is one strategy officials are using aiming to make this Memorial Day weekend safer than last year.
Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach last year during Memorial Day weekend. Tens of thousands of people travel to the area to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach or participate in events such as Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
About 11:45 p.m. Friday, a sport-utility vehicle carrying Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and City Councilmen Randal Wallace and Wayne Gray drove down the emergency lane of South Ocean Boulevard.
“We’re out seeing how things are going,” Rhodes said.
Traffic was slow but steady on South Ocean Boulevard around midnight, with security posted at intersections to let drivers know they could not have access to the main drag.
Cedric Garrett, a motorcyclist who said he first came to Bikefest 12 years ago, also said he was unaware of the traffic loop.
“I think the one-way traffic isn’t good,” he said, sitting on his motorcycle behind a barricade at 11th Avenue South. “But there does seem to be more of a police presence this year. I think that was needed – especially on the south end.”
He said he was going to do his best to avoid the traffic loop, though.
“I’m not into sitting in traffic,” Garrett said. “These bikes aren’t meant to idle. It’s bad for them.”
Jefferson, who is not a motorcyclist, said he wasn’t happy with all of the changes.
“This might be my last year,” he said.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu. Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0381 or on Twitter @Claire_TSN.