South Carolina

NAACP asks court to stop 2019 Myrtle Beach bike week traffic loop

Citing discrimination and ever-changing city defenses, the NAACP has again asked a judge to step in and block Myrtle Beach from using a traffic loop during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

The move is the latest in an ongoing legal dispute between the city and the NAACP over the loop.

Last year, the NAACP filed a lawsuit over the loop saying it was discriminatory and not used during other weekends, most notably the springtime Harley bike week. As part of that filing — Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary — the NAACP asked a judge to block the 2018 version of the 23-mile detour.

The judge sided with the city and allowed the traffic loop.

Memorial Day weekend on the Grand Strand plays host to Atlantic Beach BikeFest, also referred to as “Black Bike Week.” The weekend draws thousands of predominantly black visitors to the area. The NAACP has long decried treatment during the weekend and use of the loop.

Myrtle Beach officials previously said the loop is needed as a safety precaution.

The loop funnels traffic from Ocean Boulevard out to the county before returning to city limits. It starts at 10 p.m. and runs into the morning hours. The NAACP argued that it takes four hours for some motorists to drive the route of the loop.

As portions of Ocean Boulevard become one-way traffic during the loop, emergency vehicles use the other lanes to respond to calls.

Last week, the NAACP and others again asked a federal judge to issue an injunction to stop Myrtle Beach from implementing the loop in 2019.

In its filing, the NAACP argued the city initially said the loop was to discourage Memorial Day week attendance. But, the officials changed their rationale in response to the lawsuit. Myrtle Beach now argues the loop minimizes traffic congestion and lessens emergency response times, the NAACP contends.

There is no evidence to show that the loop is necessary or effective, the NAACP argued.

“If the city reviewed the data in its own possession, it would see that traffic is not heavier and emergency response times are not slower, during Memorial Day weekend as compared to other weekends,” the filing read.

Emergency response times were comparable on Memorial Day weekend from 2011-2014 when there was no traffic loop to 2015-2017 when the current version detour started, according to the filing.

The loop is the latest in a “long series” of official policies designed to disrupt Atlantic Beach BikeFest, the NAACP contended. The group added the city’s discriminatory attitude towards the event is as old as the gathering itself.

Myrtle Beach also doesn’t use the loop during other weekends that draw as many visitors, such as July 4, the NAACP noted.

“They continue to rely on their gut feelings regarding the purported problem and their preferred solution — despite the sociological research showing how those ‘gut feelings’ can be a product of unconscious and implicit biases which come into play when predominantly white localities are confronted with predominantly African-American crowds,” the filing read.

Myrtle Beach officials did not immediately respond for comment about the request to stop the 2019 loop.

The 2018 traffic loop

Days before the start of the 2018 Atlantic Beach BikeFest a federal judge sided with the city and declined to stop the traffic loop.

“The Court finds that the public interest will be best served if the City is allowed to proceed with its traffic plan for Memorial Day Weekend 2018,” Judge Marvin Quattlebaum wrote in an order.

Quattlebaum also ruled that even if Atlantic Beach BikeFest and Harley Bike Week are similar, the NAACP did not show the differences in traffic plans was from intentional discrimination.

Attendance was noticeably down during the 2018 Memorial Day weekend than previous years. The city did not use the traffic loop on Sunday night with sparse participation and rainy weather. Police ended the detour earlier than planned on both Friday and Saturday nights.

The NAACP and the city have spent years in court arguing about the detour. In 2005, a judge granted an injunction to stop the loop, but an appeals court stayed that ruling. The city and NAACP later settled and stopped the detour for a few years. That agreement lasted until 2015 when the city implemented the current loop.

The 2014 Memorial Day weekend was marred with violence and shootings.

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Alex Lang is the True Crime reporter for The Sun News covering the legal system and how crime impacts local residents. He says letting residents know if they are safe is a vital role of a newspaper. Alex has covered crime in Detroit, Iowa, New York City, West Virginia and now Horry County.