Miami Beach is once again bracing for massive crowds this Memorial Day weekend as up to a quarter-million revelers are expected to flock to the Beach for hip-hop performances.
Police will implement a traffic and safety plan that has become standard during the holiday weekend, also known as Urban Beach Week. It includes closed roads, more lighting and a force of 600 officers from departments around Miami-Dade County.
“The objective is to keep traffic flowing,” said Miami Beach Sgt. Bobby Hernandez. “It’s become like a stadium-type situation, where Miami Beach is our stadium. Only a certain number of cars and people can fit into our stadium.”
Starting at 7 a.m. Friday, Ocean Drive will be closed to vehicles. As in years past, traffic will be forced to loop around South Beach by heading north on Collins Avenue and south on Washington Avenue from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. To make way for pedestrians, street parking is not allowed on Collins Avenue between Fifth and 15th streets.
Parking and traffic will be restricted in alleys and along east-west streets. Hotel valet parking also will be affected.
Normal traffic patterns resume at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
On the MacArthur and Julia Tuttle causeways, police will narrow eastbound traffic to one lane from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday. Police scan every license plate to check for stolen cars and outstanding warrants. Drivers also should expect DUI checkpoints from 7 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday. The Venetian Causeway will be restricted to local traffic.
Residents like Scott Diffenderfer, 46, applaud the traffic restrictions.
“The city got a handle on the traffic,” Diffenderfer said. “The traffic pattern they developed is not a problem for me as a resident at all.”
But traffic may be worse than usual this year, as two major north/south thoroughfares are under construction. Alton Road between Eighth and 17th streets is closed to southbound traffic, forcing cars into the residential neighborhood along West Avenue. Traffic on Collins Avenue will be forced into the center lane, as that street is also under construction.
Taxi driver Anthony White, 39, said the traffic conditions make it hard to do his job.
“Honestly, it seems like the whole Miami Beach community is compromised during this weekend,” he said. “We’re the people who need to bend over backwards for this weekend.”
Hotel bookings indicate an increase in occupancy for Miami Beach from 71.3 percent in 2013 to 77 percent in 2014, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. A slight decrease is expected for Miami-Dade.
Nightclubs book big talent for performances all weekend long. Urban Beach Week is not an officially organized or sponsored event, but a series of unaffiliated parties.
Despite the throngs of people expected, not all businesses look forward to the weekend. Memorial Day has long been polarizing in Miami Beach, with sometimes unruly crowds and an explosive fatal police shooting in 2011.
A spokesman for Bamboo nightclub on Washington Avenue said owners are debating whether they’ll even be open.
“Because of the police blockades and the traffic restrictions, our business is limited by at least 90 percent,” Adrian Blaga, who handles marketing for the club, wrote in an email.
But David Ballou, 50, a distribution manager for Alvin’s Island and I Love Liquor in Miami Beach, said he expects his cash register to sing this weekend.
“It’s a great weekend for sales,” he said. “We don’t have problems with the clientele. It’s a lot of people having a good time.”
Wendy E. Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, said she is optimistic.
“It’s proving to be a good weekend,” she said.