Myrtle Beach Bike Rallies

Myrtle Beach leaders say Bikefest safety measures are working

jlee@thesunnews

Attendance for this year’s Atlantic Beach Bikefest in Myrtle Beach appeared lower this year than in years past, but city council members say it’s hard to know what spawned the change.

“Overall I think it went pretty good,” Mayor John Rhodes said of Bikefest and the public safety plan the city and community partners worked to put in place in 2015. The measures included a 23-mile traffic loop, pedestrian barricades, blocked side streets, extra law enforcement and, this year, a ban on golf carts along Ocean Boulevard.

“Of course, we don’t know what affect overall the weather had on anything. It’s hard to pinpoint if things were down because of weather,” Rhodes said, referring to Tropical Storm Bonnie, or because of the public safety measures that went into effect to the dismay of some Bikefest attendees.

Some liked the new safety efforts last year and weren’t bothered by their continuation last weekend. Other Bikefest tourists saw the extra police, barricades and traffic loop as a sign they were no longer welcome and as overreactions to the violence that plagued the city over the 2014 Memorial Day weekend.

But officers employed the tactics to stop the violence and the statistics seemed to be on their side after last year’s Bikefest.

By in large, I would say that this was a better year. I don’t know if that was indicative of the measures we’ve taken … or if it was just the rain. ... The shootings always leave you with a bad feeling. It’s that stray bullet that kills some innocent bystander that you live in fear of.

Randal Wallace, Myrtle Beach city councilman

Myrtle Beach police arrested or cited about 300 fewer people over the holiday weekend in 2015 than in 2014. Weapons offenses dropped from 23 in 2014 to six last year and unlike 2014, when three people were killed and seven were injured in eight shootings along Ocean Boulevard, no homicides and only one injury were counted among the two shootings in 2015.

But violence that escalates into a shooting can be hard to deter and even harder to predict, officials said.

One man was killed and two others were wounded in six shootings that rang out in Myrtle Beach between Friday and Monday, according to the city’s police reports.

A man led police on a chase to a cheering crowd along Ocean Boulevard on Sunday, all while in handcuffs. The officers had the suspect, whose name and charges were not available, in handcuffs and were about to put him on a gurney when he bolted.

“All we can do is to try to protect the people that are here in case there’s a shooting and try to apprehend the person that’s doing it before they do more harm,” Rhodes said. “I’m very thankful that our police officers were safe. They worked very hard … and I thought they handled the crowds with the respect they wanted to see.”

Rhodes and other city council members, including Mary Jeffcoat and Randal Wallace, rode along with City Manager John Pedersen each night to assess the Bikefest activity and police presence in the area.

Jeffcoat, Rhodes and Wallace all say the public safety measures seem to be working, but tweaks may be needed to improve the plan after a city debriefing with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

Moving forward, we will continue to work with our local and state government officials to help fund this safety plan and ensure the Memorial Day holiday returns to being a safe and fun weekend that celebrates our military heroes and kicks off the summer season.

Brad Dean, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce president

“I think what we’ve done is the direction we need to go in and after we do a review with everybody we’ll see if the steps that we’ve taken are appropriate steps or if we need to make some changes,” Rhodes said.

Jeffcoat noted an issue with speeding on the north end of town.

“The only thing that I see that we need to do is address the speeding on Kings Highway,” she said. “Police can’t chase those motorcycles that are going that fast.”

Although northbound traffic on the south side of Kings Highway was traveling at a snail’s pace with the continued roadwork on Third Avenue South and the blocked side streets between Kings Highway and Ocean Boulevard, speeding bikes were seen as a problem around 62nd Avenue North, Jeffcoat said.

“Racing on (U.S. Business) 17 still seems to be a problem,” Wallace said. “I’m not sure how you slow that down.”

But the traffic loop seems to be working, the three council members noted, and the traffic limited to one side only of Ocean Boulevard helped free up lanes for emergency officials responding to calls.

Wallace said he did hear of some people needing to get to hotels who weren’t allowed access through barricades, which may need to be addressed. He says the city also needs to make sure it still has a strong police presence for the event with help from other jurisdictions moving forward.

All we can do is to try to protect the people that are here in case there’s a shooting and try to apprehend the person that’s doing it before they do more harm.

John Rhodes, Myrtle Beach mayor

“By in large, I would say that this was a better year. I don’t know if that was indicative of the measures we’ve taken … or if it was just the rain,” Wallace said. “The shootings always leave you with a bad feeling. It’s that stray bullet that kills some innocent bystander that you live in fear of.”

But he said the police “did a great job” – a sentiment echoed by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our local and state government officials, law enforcement and public servants who worked tirelessly before and throughout this Memorial Day weekend to ensure the safety and security of our community for both residents and visitors,” chamber president Brad Dean said. “While this holiday weekend we did not experience the level of senseless crime or violence that paralyzed the Grand Strand in the years leading up to 2014, we recognize the need for a similar community plan for next year.”

Dean said the chamber will “continue to protect our longstanding reputation as being a safe, family-friendly and welcoming vacation destination. Moving forward, we will continue to work with our local and state government officials to help fund this safety plan and ensure the Memorial Day holiday returns to being a safe and fun weekend that celebrates our military heroes and kicks off the summer season.”

Dean said they asked the South Carolina General Assembly after the 2014 Bikefest to reallocate a portion of the city’s funds from the sales tax for tourism the chamber receives to pay for out-of-market advertising to instead go to the city to be used for funding extra law enforcement for the event.

The annual reallocation in the General Assembly’s budget was approved for 2015 and this year. The chamber has asked for the reallocation of funds to also be approved for next year.

Thirty-five years ago Atlantic Beach Bikefest started across a few blocks in Atlantic Beach. Now, the annual Memorial Day weekend event spreads miles across Myrtle Beach. While the old-timers prefer the quaint gathering up north, younger crowds a

Emily Weaver: 843-444-1722, @TSNEmily

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