South Beach Prepares for Memorial Day Weekend: Traffic Loops and DUI Checks on Tap
Congrats, South Beach residents! You've survived the beer-bonging, glowstick-waving trafficpocalypse of spring break and Miami Music Week. Now enjoy the fresh air and (semi)abundant parking while it lasts, because you're only a few weeks away from the massive crowds of Memorial Day weekend.
Even worse news: Riptide has gotten its hands on the Beach's tentative plans for preventing this year's festivities from devolving into the police-shooting scene that made SoBe a national embarrassment last year -- and the biggest new idea is a nightmarish-sounding "traffic loop."
At least one community activist says the plans do little to ease his worries over the city's preparations for the weekend.
"My concerns are the same they've been with the last ten Urban Beach Weekends," says Herb Sosa, head of the Unity Coalition, using the informal name for the mostly African-American party weekend. "I applaud the Beach for trying to come up with ideas, but I still don't see any evidence they can handle this kind of a mass of people."
The 20-page plan, quietly presented to commissioners at the end of January by City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, lays out a range of proposals for coping with a weekend that can draw up to 250,000 partiers.
Last year's bacchanal ended in the worst way possible: with dozens of cops shooting and killing one visitor and wounding four innocent bystanders. National TV cameras swooped in, black leaders protested, and some Beach residents such as Sosa called for the city to scale back on Memorial Day weekend.
Gonzalez, who didn't return calls and an email for comment, acknowledges in his memo that crowds are likely to be as huge as ever this year.
His most radical idea for managing the scene is a "traffic loop" that would close all side-street access from Alton Road, Fifth Street, Washington Avenue, and Collins Avenue except to residents; the idea is to keep "cruising" confined to a designated loop. Police would also have the option of closing eastbound MacArthur Causeway if traffic becomes "untenable."
The rest of Gonzalez's plan seems fairly standard: DUI checkpoints, a $1.5 million budget for police overtime and cops from other cities, and a crackdown on open containers and drugs.
Sosa, for one, worries that the traffic loop is untested and that the other measures don't address the huge crowds that amass outside Washington Avenue clubs.
"Once clubs empty out, you've got hundreds of thousands who've been drinking... in the streets," he says. "That's what creates tension. No one wants that, not visitors or residents."
Here's the full memo:
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