After a year of planning for the vehicular shenanigans that officials are sure will ensue this week, the unsanctioned pop-up car rally is officially, or unofficially, here.
With the event’s arrival, Ocean City officials implemented a special event zone over the entire resort area from Sept. 21-26, with speed limitsl be reduced to 30 mph, except where the speeds are already 30 or below.
Ocean City Police, along with assisting agencies like the Maryland State Police and Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, will be strictly enforcing all traffic laws inside the event zone as well. That includes looking for illegal car modifications and faulty equipment.
“We are extremely ready on all fronts,” Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro told City Council members during a meeting on Monday. “We’re cautiously optimistic ...we know we’ll have our challenges this week.”
Worcester County will also be putting a special event zone in place throughout the county, though speed limits will not be changed. Instead, the county plans to crack down on “egregious issues and reckless driving,” according to County Commissioner President Joe Mitrecic.
Buzzuro and his team have been preparing for the pop-up rally since last year when events turned ugly. But the event has not always had the bad reputation it currently carries.
The rally started out as the official H2Oi event that took place in Worcester County and was for fans of water-cooled Volkswagens and Audis. As the event evolved, it began to attract people with highly tuned imported cars that did not qualify for the H2Oi event.
The new crowd was also much less restrained than the H2Oi car owners, who were held to blame for situations over which it had no control. The original crew ultimately picked up its event and relocated to Atlantic City, while the tuner car operators continued to visit Ocean City.
Since the split, the event in Ocean City has turned into what some people might envision as a scene from the Fast and Furious franchise, with Hondas, Mitsubishis, and various other car brands – mostly Asian – that have customized engine tune-ups that force loud popping backfires and have spoilers attached, among other modifications.
The social media-generated event that attracts mainly 18-40-year-olds, has turned into a raucous crowd who challenge each other to burnouts or spinning donuts in intersections, while being surrounded by a crowd of spectators.
During Monday night’s meeting, Nicholas Eastman expressed concerns that the city was not doing enough to stop the rowdy behavior from the pop-up crowd, asking officials to step up and put a halt to events like a social media-planned battery toss, where people throw their dead car batteries into the ocean.
He also claimed that several tickets issued during past events have been dropped and something needed to be done to make sure the tickets hold up.
Mayor Rick Meehan said events like the battery toss have been planned in the past but never materialized. As for the tickets, Meehan said many of them have been prosecuted, resulting in some violators getting probation and others getting their fines reduced.
State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser said at the Motor Event Task Force meeting on Aug. 27 that more than 500 cases were charged because of the pop-up rally last year. That figure does not include minor infractions and traffic citations in the county. In Ocean City, police charged 396 of those cases, many of which are still working their way through the system because of a court backlog caused in part by the covid-19 pandemic. Of those cases, 80 percent have been resolved, Heiser added, and of those that were resolved, there was a 90 percent conviction rate.
Another concern raised during the council meeting on Monday was that the parking lots would be closed, with one resident saying they should all be left open like they are for the Spring Cruisin’ and BikeFest events.
Councilman John Gehrig explained the difference between the pop-up and events like Spring Cruisin’, saying organizers of the latter work with the city on a memorandum of understanding that makes sure insurance is in place. Pop-up organizers have not worked with city officials on an MOU.
Meehan said the park-and-ride lot in West Ocean City will be closed due to the city’s inability to police that area during the rally. The only other lot that will be closed during the pop-up will be the convention center parking lot at 40th Street, which will be used to stage tow trucks for the week.
“The public paid lots are open,” Meehan said.
Numerous private businesses across town have registered with the OCPD so they can be on a list that allows officers to break up crowds on the business property if they get out of control after hours. During business hours, it is up to the owners to provide their own security.
While the event is taking place, OCPD plans to put speed bumps in place on side roads. There was an issue with placing them along Coastal Highway because it is a state-operated road that receives funding from the federal government. To get the speed bumps on Coastal Highway, approval would have needed to be given from the top, which did not happen.
Police are also prepared to change the traffic patterns to divert traffic out of Ocean City should traffic affect the ability of fire and rescue vehicles answers call for help.
City officials plan to keep the public up to date with events as they occur over the weekend by way of social media and various communication channels.
For more information about the special event zone and to sign up for updates, visit https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/police/special-event-zone/.
Ultimately, the city’s goal is to keep everyone safe.
Meehan said everyone should expect congestion this week and understand there will be a higher-than-normal police presence in the resort.
“Please obey the law and be respectful of others,” he added.