Mark Arum: Gridlock Guy

Today marks the end of one of the worst five day stretches of traffic in Downtown Atlanta in recent memory. The jams started Thursday night when there were three major sporting events. The Georgia Tech football team kicked off its season, the Falcons hosted a pre-season game at the Georgia Dome and the Braves were in action in Turner Field. It was a "perfect-storm" of sports traffic. There were massive delays heading through downtown. Sports fans mixed with commuters trying to get home from work created severe backups. I've never had so many people email me or tweet at me about traffic conditions. I had friends sending me text messages asking why they hadn't moved in 45 minutes. It was an awful commute.

Friday marked the start of Dragon Con. The 25th edition of the conference brought tens of thousands of fans of science fiction, pop culture, gaming comics and literature into downtown. Saturday the unique Dragon Con crowds were mixed with University of Georgia fans as the Bulldogs hosted Boise State at the Georgia Dome.

I went downtown on Saturday afternoon to monitor the crowds and the traffic situation. I was afraid we'd see a repeat of Thursday night's gridlock. The first thing I noticed when I went downtown was the amount of pedestrian traffic. It was amazing. Between the Dawgs fans and the Dragon Con folks, I had never seen that many people walking around in downtown Atlanta. It was quite a sight. Atlanta is not exactly known as a "walking" city. Seeing our streets teaming with people on a Saturday afternoon was pretty cool.

I was actually surprised that vehicle traffic wasn't that bad. Sure, the Downtown Connector was pretty slow heading southbound to the downtown exits, but it was better than I had expected. The surface streets in downtown were pretty packed in, but not anymore than they are on a Falcons game day.

What helped the traffic situation on Saturday? I think it was two factors. First off, Bulldog fans started gathering downtown to tailgate as early as 7 a.m. That's a full 13 hours before the start of the game! This early start to the day and the early trickle of fans heading to the Dome actually helped traffic conditions because you didn't have 75,000 people trying to get to one location at the same time.

Also helping the traffic on Saturday was the fact that many of the Dragon Con fans arrived in Atlanta on Friday. Those fans already checked into their hotels, so there wasn't a tremendous amount of Storm Troopers driving into downtown. Plus, the 10 am start time of the famous Dragon Con parade ensured that fans got to town early to get a good seat to watch the festivities.

Luckily, because of these factors, we didn't see a repeat of the nightmare conditions on Thursday night.

The lesson learned over this five day stretch? When you have multiple events in Downtown Atlanta, extra planning is required for commuters, but the threat of large crowds shouldn't discourage you from enjoying everything the city has to offer.