Myrtle Beach officials say they are pleased with the way the $3.5 million in technology and traffic control equipment worked during Memorial Day weekend, though some tourists said they were concerned about the increase in surveillance this year versus last year.
Myrtle Beach will spend about $3.5 million over the next few years on the equipment and another $600,000 on additional staffing. Officials say the equipment, which includes barricades, bicycle racks, surveillance cameras and message boards, also will be used year-round. Myrtle Beach City Council raised property taxes by 2 mills last year to help pay for the Memorial Day weekend safety plan. Officials said the tax increase would result in about $650,000 for the city.
Police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby has said that drivers appreciated pedestrian barricades lining both sides of Ocean Boulevard keeping those on foot separate from vehicle traffic. Hundreds of thousands of visitors came to the beach during Memorial Day weekend for the long holiday weekend and for Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
Crosby said city officials will meet this week to determine which practices worked best, which need to be tweaked and what the plans will be for next year.
About 15 residents spoke to Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday thanking the city for its role in keeping the weekend safe, after a violent Memorial Day weekend last year that left three dead and seven injured in eight shootings.
“Last year I stood at this podium and we were heart sick about what was going on,” Ann Brittain said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “You listened to us. You heard what we had to say. And you got right to work on a plan.”
Residents made suggestions for changes that could be made to the 23-mile traffic loop, including allowing locals to get out of the loop if they’re trying to get home or get to work.
The city will pay a little over $1 million to purchase nearly 10,000 barricades, barriers and traffic cones over the next three years. The first batch of those were used during Memorial Day weekend.
Barricades were used along the 23-mile traffic loop that officials said kept traffic moving overnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Ocean Boulevard. Traffic moved at a crawl on Ocean Boulevard most of the weekend.
“It was moving,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said. “That’s not normally the case. ... Gridlock is the norm.”
Bicycle racks that lined the sidewalks were in place to keep pedestrians separate from traffic, but some motorcyclists said there should be another separation to help ease traffic.
“Why not give us a lane that we can go down?” said Ron Denson, a U.S. Air Force veteran and motorcyclist from North Dakota. “They should separate bike traffic from the cars. I felt captive [because of the traffic loop].”
Motorcycle advocate Violet “Heels” Lucas also said that a motorcycle lane would help next year, pointing out that motorcycles overheat when they idle and could cause the need for expensive repairs.
Mayor John Rhodes said the pedestrian barricades and the dedicated emergency lane for first responders were huge assets this year that he expects will continue to be used in the future.
“We had a lot of people that went up to our police officers and said thank you for making us safe,” Rhodes said.
Myrtle Beach purchased about 800 surveillance cameras, with about 132 being installed by May 15 along Ocean Boulevard – in time for Bikefest and the height of the Harley-Davidson rally.
The cameras will eventually be installed at about 200 locations throughout the city. The cameras cost about $825,000 and the infrastructure to support them will cost the city about $1.3 million over three years.
“I understand that the cameras are for surveillance,” Denson said. “But will it be used for infractions? Are they going to look through it and see that I didn’t use a turn signal and send me a ticket?”
Crosby said they will be used for criminal investigations.
The cameras were monitored in the unified command post in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend, but will be placed in the dispatch center going forward, Crosby said.
Myrtle Beach police officials also are using about 200 body cameras that cost about $250,000.
The surveillance cameras and body cameras will be used year-round, officials have said.
Last fall, the city spent $140,000 for a SkyWatch surveillance tower, which was stationed on the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion property at the corner of Ninth Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard during Memorial Day weekend.
“[The SkyWatch was manned] at various points,” Crosby said. “There were points at which there were people there, but it wasn’t 24/7.”
Crosby said the tower itself is used to deter crime.
“You don’t know whether it’s being staffed or not,” he said. “It serves as a deterrent.”
Visitors said the additional surveillance – as well as increased police presence and visibility – was a good thing in general.
Donel Rose of Florence said he felt safe this year, but added that he didn’t feel unsafe when he visited during Bikefest last year.
Damian McCants, a motorcyclist from Columbia, said his Bikefest experience overall was mixed.
“It was good and bad,” he said. “It was good because of more police presence. It kept the crime down.”
McCants and many other visitors said they didn’t like the changes to traffic patterns, though.
“You’re going to have complaints about the loop because it was inconvenient,” Rhodes said. “But it kept [U.S. Highway] 17 [Business] from being highly congested. I think it was a success.”
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.
By the numbers
Myrtle Beach will spend more than $4.1 million over the next three years on extra equipment and staffing that was used for Memorial Day weekend and will be used year-round.
$1,020,000 | Barricades, barriers and traffic cones to be paid over the next three years
$250,000 | Officer body cameras
$825,000 | Surveillance cameras
$1,300,000 | Surveillance camera infrastructure
$140,000 | SkyWatch surveillance tower
$600,000 | Estimated cost to pay private security, per diem for assisting officers, overtime for city employees
Grand total: About $4,135,000