In preparation for large crowds expected to soak in Memorial Day Weekend in South Beach, officials will again create a traffic loop, close off Ocean Drive to vehicles and deploy hundreds of police officers in the streets.
Unlike last year, there will not be DUI checkpoints, but police patrols will be looking for drunk drivers.
The holiday weekend, also known as “Urban Beach Week,” attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors for a loosely-affiliated group of parties and hip-hop concerts in different venues across South Beach.
In preparation, the Beach will again have a large police presence — around 500 officers, including cops from several other Miami-Dade departments — close Ocean Drive to vehicles and set up a traffic loop to minimize traffic snarls.
Lately, many holiday and special event weekends have put the barrier island in traffic gridlock. The Beach has been a bigger draw than usual so far in 2016, with unexpectedly large crowds descending on the island during the Spring Break season and, most notably, during Floatopia. The latter caused a stir after people left heaps of plastic floats and other litter on the sand.
Captain Henry Doce, the Miami Beach police officer in charge of developing a plan to manage the huge crowds that come to the Beach each year, said this year’s crowds show that interest in the Beach keeps growing.
“We are expecting larger than average crowds,” Doce said. At a community meeting last week, he said hotels were already reporting occupancy rates of 80 percent, with some completely booked.
Some businesses see a nice spike in business during the weekend.
“This place gets full of people from all over,” said Maekel Gil, who works at Suri Pizza on Washington Avenue.
Other businesses have seen fewer patrons in the past and find it more of a hassle to even stay open. Billy Gerardi, general manager of Miami Tattoo Co., said he doesn’t get many walk-ins. And with the traffic, he and many on his staff would have to put up with a longer commute to work.
“And the parking is outrageous,” he said. The shop will be closing this year due to construction work on the rear of the building.
Other than a one-off centennial concert sponsored by the city last year, Memorial Day has typically been the only weekend where cops have crafted a detailed plan to manage large crowds — an approach that has evolved after years of steadily growing attendance and an incident where a motorist was killed by police gunfire during a chase in 2011.
After this year’s Floatopia, the City Commission wants to create a protocol for all “high-impact” weekends.
Here’s what you need to know about the Beach’s plan for Memorial Day Weekend 2016:
▪ Ocean Drive from Fifth to 15th streets will close to vehicular traffic at 7 a.m. Friday, May 27. Collins Avenue from Fifth Street to Española Way will be one-way heading north from May 27 to May 31. Washington Avenue will become one-way heading south between Fifth and 15th streets starting at 7 p.m. each night from May 27 to May 31. The easternmost lanes will be used for vehicles, and the remaining lanes will be closed to traffic except emergency vehicles. Normal traffic patterns will resume at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, June 1.
▪ Cops will use license plate readers through the weekend to record tags for all vehicles that cross the Julia Tuttle and MacArthur causeways. Recorded tags will be run through a database that police will use to identify outstanding warrants for registered drivers and stolen vehicles.
▪ Residents are encouraged to use the Venetian Causeway to cross the bay. Police will set up roadblocks along Collins, Fifth Street and Alton Road at night to prevent nonresident traffic on neighborhood streets.
▪ About 150 civilian volunteers called “Goodwill Ambassadors” will be stationed throughout the entertainment district to assist visitors and act as liaisons between the public and the city.