When one mentions that they went on vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC, visions of complete streets and urban design do not spring to mind. For years, I remember friends who’s parents took them to Myrtle Beach on summer vacation. I had never attended until recently, when my wife proposed that we take a summer trip there. I am a major lover of the beach, and sunburns, so it did not take any amount of arm twisting.
We spent 5 nights just south of the major N/S split along OceanÂ Blvd, so we were front and center for what I observed to be the changing of a familiar built form; that being one that gives over priority to the automobile. Indeed, for decades towns like Myrtle Beach have promoted their long and skinny cruise strips. Every year people make the trip to places like this and other coastal Atlantic cities to cruise up and down the strip looking for a relationship on the quick or to show off their ride. And while that drawÂ has not changed, something that has is the amount of space that they are given to do it.
As you can see from the photographs in this post, a major effort is underway to implement bike lanes (check) add pedestrian islands to facilitate easier crossing (check) and widen sidewalks for the large number of foot-traffic (not complete, but getting there). Additionally, one who is well versed in the subtle styling ques of modern urban design can see attention to detail in the form of lower mast lighting. Narrow lanes for cars. Wider sidewalks with paver styling ques.
They have even started lengthening their boardwalk south of it’s location by adding a concrete pathway that is also accompanied by shade structures periodically located. Under these, vendors sell ice cream, lemonade, shaved ice and other similar refreshments. An effort to rebuild the dunes adjacent to the beach was also ongoing as signs in some places advised pedestrians to stay off of them.
The transition is not complete however.Â One can still see in many places wide automobile travel lanes, narrow sidewalks and the old-style high-mast street lighting. Perhaps the city has exhausted it’s budget and is waiting on coffers to replenish so that the transition can continue. Even along the concrete boardwalk extension, I could see where it appears that they left the design open for the next phase of the path.
Additionally, and something that impressed me, is that you can tell that the civic leaders in power know how to manage tourists. We made many walks to the Boardwalk’s central gathering park where a new, large ferris wheel is located. Every time we visited, there was some sort of programmed event taking place. Whether it was a concert, street performers or what not, there was always some sort of buzz being generated by officially planned events of some sort. It was ironic to me that the same week that I was there, the Monument Circle Design Competition was releasing their top 12 submissions. Urban Indy’s own Greg Meckstroth is one of those finalists and his submission proposes more programmed events on the circle. In a single moment it made so much more sense to me.
We also made a trek to the old Air Force base which has been turned over to a redevelopment commission. What has transpired there hints at a new urbanist colony in the making not unlike others that have cropped up around the country. I was able to visit Celebration, FL a couple years ago and this redevelopment felt similar. Dubbed the Market Commons, a vast commercial and residential complex is opening up on the old grounds. There feels like a town center area with fountains and restaurants located there. Additionally, many residential units are housed in the same buildings with living areas being located over the restaurants and retail shops. However, the biggest downfall that I observed was the vast amount of parking.
There were many surface lots as well as two large multi-story garages. It appeared that they at least tried to quell this by adding greenery to the garages. One can almost chalkÂ up the amount of parking to the small nature of the Myrtle Beach area; wikipedia lists theÂ metro areaÂ as containing 324k residents. Even consideringÂ their size,Â they had a somewhat impressive amount of transit lines that criss-cross the area. However, the routes that are there, are still pathetic in their overheads. Even during the week, they are listed at 1 hour between arrivals. Additionally, the service’s website lacks a good system map. I witnessed a lot of transit buses while there, howeverÂ we did not use any on account of beingÂ able to walk to nearly all the destinations that we intended on visiting; except the Market Commons area. Maybe it is this tourist nature that has drawn overheads to such a lofty level. Whatever the case, if we HAD chosen to ride, we would have been stuck in the same slow traffic that cruise traffic was creating. It was much nicer to walk and experience the environment anyway.
In conclusion, I would say that the town is headed in the right direction at least in it’s tourist areas. Outside of the immediate ocean Blvd area, there were lots of multi-lane surface highways in addition to the freeway par highways that funnel people in and out of the region. Additionally, the transit service could use some smart thinking in how to focus usage around actually moving people around the cruise traffic while still providing good access to people staying in the resort areas. Perhaps a hybrid sort of BRT with passing lanes or something. My wife commented once that it would have been nice to have a trolley that ran up and down the strip in it’s own right of way to get around on. Additionally, I wonder just how much the locals use the service. I saw a lot of empty busses…