Football, festivals and epic traffic for holiday weekend

Football fans, social activists, super heroes and the odd alien will all be spending the weekend in downtown Atlanta. Let’s hope they’re not all driving.

This weekend may be the traditional end of summer. But instead of things winding down, several events will just be getting started Friday. The Dragon Con sci-fi fest, UGA’s season opener and the Black Gay Pride celebration will mean all roads lead to Atlanta this weekend — and all cars will be on them.

“The best bet is to take MARTA if you’re heading to these events and stay out of the city center if you don’t have to be there,” advises Doug Turnbull, WSB traffic reporter.

While some events have designated parking, that parking will fill up fast. And private lots could charge upward of $70 for a spot of concrete, event organizers said.

All of the action kicks off Thursday night, with two events expected to bring 150,000 people. Thousands of others will trickle in beginning late Thursday for Dragon Con and Pride festivities.

At the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Falcons host the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7 p.m. in the final preseason game. Next door at Philips Arena, the Australian rockers AC/DC will take the stage at 8 p.m. Construction of the Mercedes-Benz football stadium means there’s even less parking in the area than in previous years. (And just for laughs, the Braves have a home game with the Padres at noon Thursday. Then they fly out to Philadelphia for the weekend.)

Friday night, the Dome will be the home field for the Georgia State University football team, which hosts Ball State at 7 p.m. Consider that college game a small taste of Saturday’s marquee matchup, when the University of Georgia Bulldogs face the University of North Carolina Tarheels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Tickets are sold out for the 5:30 p.m. UGA-UNC game, but even those without tickets are expected to head to numerous tailgating events Saturday. Georgia Dome parking lots open at 10 a.m. Bottles open at about 10:01.

For the non-football fan, Atlanta has been home to Dragon Con since 1987. The convention, dedicated to fantasy, gaming, comics and anything in between, will be out of this world again this year.

Once again, the Saturday morning parade will be a highlight. From 9:30 a.m. until noon, the route will be closed to cars, according to Officer Kim Jones with Atlanta Police.

The parade will start at Peachtree Street and North Avenue, head south on Peachtree and then turn left onto Andrew Young International Boulevard. It will travel east on International then make another left onto Peachtree Center Avenue. Traveling north on Peachtree Center, the parade will continue to Baker Street. For participants who have not already dematerialized, the parade will end at Baker.

“Please plan accordingly,” Jones said. “We strongly suggest you take MARTA if you plan to attend the parade on Saturday.”

And don’t think you can escape the traffic by driving over to Decatur. Nearly 70,000 people are expected there for the AJC Decatur Book Festival this weekend. These will mostly not be Dawgs or Dragon Con-victs. But even the erudite and the intellectual will chew up all the parking and clog the streets. Again, think MARTA.

For still others, the holiday weekend means a road trip to the coast or even a quick getaway somewhere farther. The three-day weekend is one of the heaviest travel times of the year; in 2015, nine people died on state roads over the Labor Day weekend.

“Troopers take saving lives seriously, and will be out on full patrols actively looking for unsafe and impaired drivers,” Col. Mark W. McDonough, state public safety commissioner, said in an email. “Plan your trips carefully to allow ample time to reach your destination, make sure everyone is wearing a seat belt, don’t drive distracted, and obey the posted speed limit.”

Traveling through Atlanta? Consider an alternate route, Turnbull said.

“If you’re leaving town or using the airport, I-285 may be a better option, as I-75/85 will likely be stacked most of the weekend,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation will do its part to help out. The agency is suspending construction-related lane closures over the Labor Day weekend on interstates and state routes.