Ocean Boulevard businesses speak out against traffic changes in response to violence

Ocean Boulevard businesses speak out against traffic changes in response to violence
Myrtle Beach police patrolling Ocean Boulevard. (Source: Lisa Gresci)
Myrtle Beach police patrolling Ocean Boulevard. (Source: Lisa Gresci)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The top cop in Myrtle Beach is calling for help to curb violence in the city, and it has some Ocean Boulevard business owners speaking out against traffic changes in response to that violence.

Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall's call for assistance at Tuesday's Myrtle Beach City Council meeting comes after several recent shootings within the city.

While many agree this needs to be a community effort, businesses where those proposed changes would take place said there's just no way.

The proposed changes call for a stretch of Ocean Boulevard to be limited to two lanes, with a center turning lane, and maybe even closing parts of the boulevard when it gets too crowded.

Those with the Oceanfront Merchants Association don't want to see this happen.

"This decision, we feel, was made on the fly as a response," Michelle Kerscher, an OMA member, said.

While completely understanding where Gall is coming from, these business owners don't think taking a hammer to Ocean Boulevard would prevent shots from being fired.

"We know that it won't, we know that it won't," Justin Plyler, the owner of the Gay Dolphin, said.

Kerscher said Ninth Avenue North through 16th Avenue North is the only stretch of the boulevard that still has four lanes. Those at surrounding businesses along the way said this helps with deliveries, day-to-day business, and off-season business, with on-street parking available.

For Kerscher, he believes two other options need to be explored further.

"We feel like police presence and a little more activity in the area would be better to combat this rather than to take it to two lanes," he said. "That has repercussions that are astronomical. They aren't really being looked at."

Ocean Boulevard is also a way to get from the north end to the south end. With so much traffic and construction as it is, Kerscher is concerned people will turn around and never come back.

"If they did that, where would you be able to get around road construction? If Ocean Boulevard was two lanes the entire way, we fear people will just turn around and go somewhere else," she said.

Business owners agree Myrtle Beach may not be the city it was years ago and they do not deny the change they see, especially when it comes to violence.

"I understand the safety issue is paramount and if we thought that it would help, we would be advocating it like crazy," Plyler said.

Officials with OMA said this is something they've done research on. It's called a "road diet" and they think this will be an expensive mistake if passed. They compared it to the changes made when the city decided to put a bus lane on Ocean Boulevard in the mid 2000s.

What they ask for now is a voice before these changes are made.

"We ask for a chance to present that information to them and try to take this through the right channels," Kerscher said.

The Oceanfront Merchants Association tells WMBF News they want nothing more than Myrtle Beach's reputation to be "family friendly" and plan to present their argument to city council at the next council meeting in May.

"But we really believe that closing the road is not the answer," Kerscher said. "It needs to be a several-pronged approach. Again, it didn't happen overnight. We need to look at long-term solutions to fix this. And we are willing to work with council to find out what those are because we are the ones who will suffer if this area continues to have this reputation."

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