GREENVILLE, SC (WBTW) – No decision was made on Tuesday afternoon after Judge Marvin Quattlebaum heard the NAACP’s argument that the Myrtle Beach traffic loop should not be implemented during Memorial Day weekend.
The judge said he understands time is of the essence because Memorial Day Weekend is at the end of the month and expects to make a decision “as soon as possible” but no timeline was given to those in courtroom on Tuesday.
Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom but News13’s Abbey O’Brien was there for the four-hour hearing.
Reed Colfax, an attorney representing the NAACP, went first and called the traffic pattern and loop during Black Bike Week, a titled used by NAACP officials in the lawsuit, “unjustified, unfair and unconstitutional.” The NAACP filed the awsuit against the City of Myrtle Beach and the police department in February. The lawsuit claims discrimination, among other things, over the traffic loop’s implementation during Memorial Day weekend but not during other seasonal events that draw a large number of visitors. The NAACP also requested a preliminary injunction to stop the traffic loop from being used during next month’s bike fest.
Colfax said the Bikefest is the only predominately African American event in Myrlte Beach and the only event where the city imposes the traffic pattern and loop.
The NAACP called up two witnesses, Chief Willie Williams who works out of town but has been to several “Harley Week” and “Black Bike Week” events over the last few years. He claims the two groups of people and the events are similar and don’t have enough differences for one to warrant a traffic plan. The second witness was Dr. David B. Clark who is the Executive Director of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Center for Transportation Research. Clark said he collected data and evidence on traffic flow in 2017 and found both bike rallies to be similar in size and nature. He also said traffic flow on Ocean Boulevard during the Memorial Day Bikefest was “terrible” and on a grading scale would get an “F-minus-minus.” He said the plan discourages travel and believes the city should not have the traffic loop plan.
Colfax argued the number of attendees for both events are similar, citing hotel occupancy in the city of Myrtle Beach. He said the city put the traffic loop in after a violent Bikefest in 2014 where there were several shootings. However, Colfax said there is “no linkage” between the violence and the need for a traffic loop.
After a short break the hearing resumed and this time the city’s attorneys, Mike and James Battle, were able to present and call witnesses.
Mike Battle said, “we have two different opinions and views of the event.” He explained the NAACP sees the Memorial Day Bikefest as a social gathering but the city sees it as a “major public safety event” and the goal is to make it as safe as possible.
Battle told the judge the traffic pattern and loop is only in the city of Myrtle Beach for about 6.5 out of the 23.1 miles and said the SCDOT controls the rest. “They’re not parties in this lawsuit,” said Battle and explained why he believes the judge technically can’t stop the whole loop. He also argued the “decision makers” for the Bikefest are the people on the Bikefest Task Force Committee and not the city. At one point, Battle claimed the NAACP had the wrong facts and “don’t even know who to sue.”
Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock and Myrtle Beach Police Captain Joey Crosby were called as witnesses and they both agreed that the Memorial Day Bikefest and Harley Week are two different events which is why they have different regulations. They said Harley Week bikers typically go through Myrtle Beach but spend most of their time on the south strand in the Murrells Inlet area.
Crosby said the department spends “considerable amounts of time” educating the public and have developed an app which helps people navigate the loop. He explained how the loop and the one-way traffic pattern on Ocean Boulevard work and explained that the northbound lanes on Ocean Boulevard are closed off to be used by police, fire and EMS.
Prock said they have already spent about $300,000 on the event for more equipment, replacing equipment, rental message boards and manpower but could spend up to $600,000. Crosby said they plan to have over 400 officers from outside agencies come in to assist the Myrtle Beach Police Department during the event.
Prock told the court she has been at the MBPD for several years and has seen at least four different plans put in place and the current plan “has been the most successful.” She said the traffic pattern and loop allow for first responders to get to calls faster. When asked by the NAACP about the traffic congestion she said “our focus is on calls for service.”
At the end of the hearing, Battle said if the plan is changed two and a half weeks before the event police “won’t know what to do” and the city would have to “scramble” to make the event safe.
After witnesses were called and cross examined, the judge asked both parties several questions. He first asked the NAACP why they didn’t sue in 2015, 2016 or 2017 to which Colfax said the NAACP wanted to see if the loop would be successful and when they felt it wasn’t, hoped they could work things out with the city before it came to a lawsuit. The judge also asked about regulations the city put on all bikers when it enacted laws requiring helmets and limiting muffler noise. Colfax said those regulations could be applied across the board but the traffic loop only affects bikers during what he calls “Blake Bike Week” which is why he feels race comes into play.
When the judge asked Colfax to respond to the claim the city made about only being in control of about 6.5 miles of the traffic pattern, he said Chief Prock admitted she could shut down the loop if necessary.
The judge then asked the city attorneys if they had an idea for bond if he sided with the NAACP. It was later explained that typically if an entity, like the NAACP, asks for an injunction like this, they could be liable for costs associated with planning. The city attorneys did not give an exact number in the hearing.
News13 will update this article when the judge makes a decision.