The love lock, that parasitic form of metal graffiti, has a complicated relationship with urban bridges. A new grassroots campaign is pressuring many cities to go lock-free, but it hasn’t been easy.
While the poetic act of picking out a Master Lock together with the love of your life might seem like a centuries-old tradition, the scourge of love locks has really only become a problem in the last few years. People just can’t seem to get enough of the Instagram-ready photo-op, and vendors near prominent spots are more than happy to cater to them. It’s not just delicate padlocks anymore—some are giant, and overzealous tourists sometimes even affix bike locks to the railings of bridges. Most cities have generally tolerated the practice, even putting up temporary chain-link screens which can easily be taken down and carted away when they fill up.
But last year a non-structural piece of a Parisian bridge sagged under the weight of these symbols of eternal devotion, prompting the the city to change its policy. While the locks didn’t actually bring down the bridge, they did supposedly cause “deterioration” to the metal. Plus the dramatically cast-away keys aren’t great for river health. This summer, Paris removed 45 tons of locks from the most famous lock destination, the Pont des Arts bridge, permanently. A barrier now keeps lovesick lock-wielding couples at bay while new glass walls are being erected to protect the railing.
In response to the Paris controversy, a dedicated website, NoLoveLocks.com and the active hashtag #nolovelocks have cropped up, led by people who hate love in all forms. Their soulless goal is to eradicate these locks from the planet. Some of these followers mounted a vicious social media shaming campaign on Lisa Rinna when she placed a lock on a place she called “Love Bridge” before locking lips with husband Harry Hamlin.
As pressure mounts, what are bridge-owning cities to do? A New York Times story explores some of the alternatives that cities have employed, including building devoted public art structures where tourists can pop locks on at will. Although is this example in Toronto really as fun? And where do you throw the key?
The other option is to, you know, just keep taking them off. On the Brooklyn Bridge, the NYC Department of Transportation does daily sweeps with a bolt-cutter, collecting around 10,000 locks per year.
Paris’s new glass-encased lock-less bridge should be finished by January, when it will almost certainly be covered in lock-shaped stickers or some other subversive material. In the meantime, Paris recommends you take selfies instead using its new #lovewithoutlocks hashtag. Doesn’t really seem to have caught on yet (most images are of love locks) but the message has been officially reinforced by a new mural which really makes you think.
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Top photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images