On hot days, cars parked bumper to bumper along Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda have attested to the popularity of the Bethesda Pool, which Montgomery County has operated on park land at Hillandale Road for three summers.
It also is the sign of a chronic parking problem, for the cars are there illegally, often blocking the bike path that runs through the park. Maryland-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission police say that on one day alone, July 31, they issued 26 tickets.
Although police say the problem there is no greater than at other high-use recreation areas in the county--noting that an average of only 4 1/2 parking tickets a day were written near the pool this summer--the Bethesda Pool's assistant manager Steven Hughes said that "people are constantly complaining to me about it." He noted that he has gotten two $10 tickets himself this summer.
An average of nearly 400 patrons are in the pool area at a time and about 1,500 use it a day, recreation officials say, but there are only 67 legal parking places nearby.
The facility--the only outdoor public pool serving the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area--closes after Labor Day, but the parking problem is expected to persist next summer. Recreation officials say they can make no plans to expand parking facilities because the neighborhood continues to object to additional spaces, on the grounds that it would attract even more people and that, in any event, many patrons would be walking to the pool.
"There's one-quarter the parking we need," said pool manager Timothy Coleman. He said he routinely calls police to ticket cars "because it's hazardous when cars are blocking the emergency entrance to the pool."
Barbara Modine, aquatics coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Recreation, said, "It's been an acute problem since the pool opened in 1981 . We've held public meetings every summer to try and get patrons to support additional parking, but the only ones who attend are Kenwood Forest residents," who oppose the building of a parking lot adjacent to their town house development.
"We can't do anything about it" until residents of the neighborhood, to whose wishes county planners have acquiesced, say more parking spaces are needed, she said.
Last year, Modine said, the county sponsored a shuttle bus from the pool lot to parking lots on Arlington Road. "But it was very unsuccessful," she said. "People ignored it."
Additionally, Modine pointed out, half the patrons at the Bethesda facility are adults, compared with 25 percent elsewhere in the county, making for more car traffic.
Bob Daniel, a Recreation Department official who was previously director of the western Montgomery region, said his department tried unsuccesfully to encourage car pooling and bike riding among patrons and was unable to get Metrobus service or to rent a parking lot a quarter of a mile away.
Daniel recalled that people told the police "they wanted to swim bad enough that they would pay a $10 ticket."