Miami Beach Prepares for Memorial Day Weekend Car-mageddon

Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach
Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach Photo by George Martinez
Every Memorial Day, Miami Beach braces for an influx of visitors and the inevitable complaints about traffic. But thanks to the ongoing construction on the MacArthur Causeway, this year's gridlock could be even worse — and police are basically telling drivers tough luck.

"We can send out as many traffic texts as we want, but there is no shying around it — there will be traffic," Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said last week at a meeting about the city's plans for Memorial Day weekend.

Residents have griped about lane closures and construction on the MacArthur for the better part of the past year. But over Memorial Day weekend, traffic is expected to be even slower than it has been lately. Once again, the Miami Beach Police Department says it will position its highly controversial license-plate readers (LPRs) Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to catch people with outstanding warrants as they head to the beach for Urban Beach Week.

"The LPRs not only read the license plates of every vehicle that comes through, runs the tag, but it also runs the listed operator of that vehicle," Lt. Doug Simon said at last week's community meeting. "From a law enforcement standpoint, we can't even begin to tell you the benefits. It is a truly phenomenal law enforcement tool."

However, the MacArthur and Julia Tuttle Causeways will be narrowed from three to two lanes because license-plate readers can scan only two lanes at a time, causing more traffic congestion.

In the past, critics have questioned the city's use of license-plate readers specifically during weekends with a high volume of black visitors. Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have also expressed privacy concerns about the technology.

Others believe the license-plate readers are simply unnecessary. Larry Thorson, who has lived in North Beach for the past 21 years, voiced his concern about the LPRs after his experience on the causeways during spring break.

"I was coming back from the University of Miami on a Thursday night, and I was one of 20,000 people in the traffic jam leading into Miami Beach because of the license-plate readers," Thorson said at the meeting. "Why do we have to submit to this? It took an extra hour to go home."

In addition to installing the license-plate readers, Miami Beach Police will work with other municipalities, including Miami-Dade County, to provide a greater police presence around Miami Beach, especially Saturday and Sunday nights for the Air and Sea Show. There will be more than 500 officers working a minimum of 13-hour shifts, with an even split of officers working at night and during the day. Simon said pedestrians will encounter a police officer on every street corner.

In terms of traffic plans, MBPD will enact its "traffic loop" measure the evening of Friday, May 24. The loop will be a configuration between Fifth Street and 16th Street from Collins Avenue to Washington Avenue. After closing last year during Memorial Day weekend, 16th Street this year will be open only westbound to allow businesses to operate during normal hours. Residents and business owners with proof of ownership or residence will be allowed to enter the residential "green zone" and parking garages without having to endure the whole loop.

Ocean Drive will be closed to motor vehicle traffic from Friday, May 24, at 7 a.m. until Tuesday, May 28, at 7 a.m.
image courtesy of Miami Beach police
image courtesy of Miami Beach police
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Naomi Feinstein is a contributor for Miami New Times. She is a rising senior at the University of Miami, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the managing editor of the UM student newspaper, the Miami Hurricane.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein