The Grand Strand will look different to tourists in town on Memorial Day weekend because of a number of new strategies aiming to get control of the crowds – including a 23-mile traffic loop, an increased and more visible police presence, and new technology and equipment.
Officials estimate that Memorial Day attracts anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people who come to town to take advantage of a three-day weekend or participate in festivals such as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
Plans have been put into place aiming to make the weekend a safe one, after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach last year. Officials say that with those plans, they are ready for the weekend.
On the roads
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The biggest change this year will be a 23-mile traffic loop in effect from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. May 22-24 with the goal of keeping traffic moving and cutting down on street parties, which officials say lead to violence.
Also different this year, the city will not have its usual Military Appreciation Days parade and picnic on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend this year, with officials opting to move it to this Saturday, May 16, instead.
There will be a veterans march down Ocean Boulevard that begins 9 a.m. May 25 from 16th Avenue North to the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion site between Eighth and Ninth avenues North. The march will precede the city’s annual Memorial Day service at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center at 11 a.m.
Myrtle Beach also is bringing back a dedicated emergency lane and only allowing one-way traffic on Ocean Boulevard from May 22-24 – 24 hours a day – beginning at 29th Avenue North.
Myrtle Beach fire Chief Alvin Payne said ambulances will be staged along Ocean Boulevard at 18th Avenue South, Fifth Avenue South, and Ninth Avenue North.
Bike racks will line both sides of Ocean Boulevard to keep pedestrians separate from vehicular traffic – another strategy officials say will keep street parties to a minimum.
New this year in Myrtle Beach is a traffic chute set up on Kings Highway at 29th Avenue North to control festival traffic to Ocean Boulevard.
Police and security
All of Myrtle Beach’s officers – around 220 – will be working Memorial Day weekend, and this year they will be easier to see.
Officers will wear shirts with bright yellow on them to not only make it easier for those in need to spot them, but also to make their presence known.
The state also is planning to send about 400 combined officers from S.C. Law Enforcement Divisions and S.C. Highway Patrol to the Grand Strand, about 130 more than last year. Those officers are assigned throughout the Grand Strand.
Myrtle Beach has signed mutual aid agreements with 270 in-state municipal officers, 150 state police officers from South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and 30 constables, who are volunteer police officers.
All 21 sworn police officers in Surfside Beach will be working this year, with 13 officers coming to town through mutual aid agreements, according to officials there. The town saw a jump in tourists in town and traffic congestion last year and are preparing for big numbers this year as well.
North Myrtle Beach has about 70 officers that will be working all weekend and 100 officers from about 25 outside agencies – 60 more officers than last year, Dowling said.
Technology and traffic control equipment also will be highly visible throughout Myrtle Beach.
The city is spending nearly $1 million to purchase 10,000 barricades, barriers and traffic cones over the next three years. Myrtle Beach police officials have about 200 body cameras that are in use that cost about $200,000, with officers from Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach also equipped.
Myrtle Beach also is in the process of installing 800 cameras at 200 locations throughout the city, with a focus on Ocean Boulevard and the beach accesses. The cameras cost about $800,000 and the infrastructure to support them will cost the city about $1.3 million over three years.
Last fall, the city spent $140,000 for a SkyWatch surveillance tower, which Crosby said will be used somewhere along Ocean Boulevard on Memorial Day weekend.
Changes at the beach
Officials along the Grand Strand are putting a number of plans in place for Memorial Day, to make the holiday weekend safer during Atlantic Beach Bikefest, set for May 22-25.
Among the changes:
Establishing a 23-mile loop aimed at keeping traffic moving. The loop routes drivers from 29th Avenue North 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. Highway 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
Assigning a group of local residents to serve as ambassadors, to help visitors with information about the traffic loop, which will be in place nightly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. May 22-24 to ease congestion on Ocean Boulevard, which police said can lead to street parties, which, in turn, can lead to violence.
Creating mutual aid agreements between outside law enforcement jurisdictions and Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach, to help with uniform policing.
Establishing command centers in Cherry Grove, at Rose’s Shopping Center in North Myrtle Beach, at the Myrtle Beach Police Annex on the former Air Force Base, at the South Strand Recreation Center and at Magnolia Plaza Shopping Center. Officers from all local agencies will be in the main command center, as opposed to in their individual departments.
Staging ambulances at various “strategic locations” throughout the Grand Strand so crews can respond to emergencies quickly.
Coordinating community outreach to deliver a unified message, so as many residents and tourists know what to expect over the weekend. Outreach and education has been and continues to be done through in- person meetings, websites, Facebook and Twitter.