MYRTLE BEACH (WMBF) – The city of Myrtle Beach wants Ocean Boulevard to be safe for residents and visitors alike.
Police Chief Warren Gall said making changes to the road could be part of the fix. The proposal is to make the only four-lane portion of Ocean Boulevard still remaining look just like the rest of the road, leaving a bike lane buffer between pedestrians on the sidewalk and cars in the street.
The Oceanfront Merchants Association said it was blindsided by the idea presented during a city council meeting, and it can prove the move would hurt businesses and create big traffic backups.
A WMBF News investigation into the association's research found the change in other parts of the city was never meant to be an effort to curb crime, and even though it hasn't created problems in Myrtle Beach, a move like this has proven disastrous in the past.
Michelle Kerscher, a manager at the Gay Dolphin and a member of the Oceanfront Merchants Association, found a study that she believes is proof the move is bad for business and not a deterrent for crime.
"We were a little shocked it was brought up as a measure to combat the crime for the few weeks before," she said ahead of Tuesday's meeting.
She added the reduction of lanes has an obvious impact on traffic.
"We've experimented with this before when the bus lanes were here and saw business definitely take a hit," Kerscher said. "You're eliminating the people that are going to get out and spend money in the area. You're eliminating the families and the people that are going to say, 'Forget it, I'll go somewhere where there is free parking.'"
WMBF News obtained research the city did on the project last year. Click here to read the full report.
The city counted cars on a Saturday from 5 to 6 p.m. in July, what it calls peak hour. Based on the four-lane configuration from Seventh Avenue North to Mr. Joe White Avenue, there was typically little to no delay in traffic at intersections.
The research shows dropping to two lanes would lengthen delays at Ninth Avenue North, but not significantly and not to the point where a fix would be needed. The research concludes changes would enhance safety and encourage biking and walking.
What the research does not mention is crime. Kerscher thinks this stretch of road is being targeted for an issue happening in other parts of the city.
One thing the report Kerscher is citing does list is the key outcomes of a road diet:
- Improved street life, meaning people feel more comfortable walking from one side of the street to the other
- Lower speeds leading to less noise and more bicycle use
- A decline in crashes. The report says there is a 400 percent reduction where the redesign has already happened
It says pedestrian-related crashes vanished.
"The main thing we want to get across is this is not a response to public safety," Kerscher said. "This is not going to prevent the crime we experienced over the Easter break."
What the report also shows was a road diet was never in the plan from Sixth Avenue to 14th Avenue North.
Kerscher said she has real-life evidence this is a bad idea. Carolina Beach tried it about 80 miles north of the Grand Strand.
It took the North Carolina town six years to come up with the plan. It took just two years of traffic headaches for the town to get off the diet and back to four lanes.
Below is a report from Rethinking Streets on the road diet:
Below is a report from the Federal Highway Administration on the road diet: