Now that Grand Strand and Myrtle Beach officials are gearing up to plan for next year’s Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest, while also patting each other on the backs for this year’s event, it’s a good time to give an outsider’s quick assessment:
-- Yes, things were better this year than last May. But that’s a regression to the mean. What happened during Memorial Day weekend 2014 - even if you attribute all of the bad stuff to Bikefest - was the anomaly. The event is more than 35 years old.
-- Myrtle Beach officials were at their best when they focused on simply trying to come up with practical ways to deal with the event - and not participating in the highly-charged rhetoric in the community - while figuring out the best way to honor competing interests. That’s what officials did in the lead up to the event, and officials elsewhere can learn from their example.
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-- Did the loop work? Will it be necessary next year? From what I gathered from being out on the streets of Myrtle Beach most of that weekend, and speaking to people since, the loop wasn’t necessary and shouldn’t be reinstalled next year. It seemed mostly to irritate and anger locals and tourists alike, with no real evidence that it improved things at all.
-- Were the barricades on Ocean Boulevard effective? Were they stifling? Should they return next year? Yes, yes, and yes. Those barricades kept walking traffic away from vehicle traffic. In 2014, that was one of the primary problems with the event, when some people simply decided to have literal street parties, parking their cars and having pedestrians dance with them in the street. That simply couldn’t continue. The barricades were a good idea, and it would be foolish to scale them back next year.
-- How did the crowd behave overall? Pretty much the way it had most years. Bikefest in Myrtle Beach is an event in name only. Participants mostly just walk up and down the street, dance a bit, laugh and enjoy each others company, while also taking in the sights and sounds other tourists enjoy.
-- What about the police presence? Was it effective? Yes, it was. It was clear that most officers had the right balance of sternness and friendliness. It was a great example of what law enforcement can do when it isn’t charged with just being a punitive force.
-- Was Bikefest dangerous? No, it wasn’t. If you look at the stats from Myrtle Beach, there have been five shooting deaths in the city so far in 2015 - not one during Bikefest. The truth is that when a person decides to do something awful, like shoot a man in a hotel room, which happened during Memorial Day weekend and in March, there’s little anyone can do about that.
-- Any suggestions about next year? If Myrtle Beach really wanted to improve the weekend, it would do the politically-incorrect thing and open up the former Pavilion area to vendors, providing free licenses to downtown restaurants and charging others to serve food and other things. That would help dilute the crowd even more. Years ago, Myrtle Beach and Horry County tried a similar strategy, to redirect and dilute the crowd. It didn’t work - primarily because most of the vendors were stationed in a large field on the former Air base, which is far from the center of the action. The former Pavilion area is downtown and on the oceanfront, just where Bikefest participants will be any way. City officials might not consider such a thing because it wouldn’t be popular among the boisterous folks who still want Bikefest to end. But if it was truly bold and forward thinking, Myrtle Beach would give that idea serious consideration.