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Love Lock Epidemic Spreads, Amidst Growing Controversy

June 21, 2014
More Love Locks on the Passerelle Debilly Footbridge

Paris appears to be the epicenter of a global love lock epidemic.

Instead of carving hearts into trees, couples are expressing eternal love by hanging “love locks” on bridges, fences and gates. The metal padlocks inscribed with names or initials are often purchased from street vendors and the keys thrown away, usually in nearby rivers. The locks have become so ubiquitous over the past decade that a Wikipedia page lists their locations, broken down by continent and country.

Critics say that in addition to the eyesore created by the locks, tourists are compromising their personal safety and that of boaters below the bridges by climbing lampposts and safety railings to secure locks in unusual places. Just this month, a portion of railing on the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of layers of locks suspended from its metal grillwork.

Like the Eiffel Tower, the glistening bridge rails have become popular backdrops for tourists taking photographs. According to TripAdvisor.com, the Pont des Arts footbridge is now the 58th most popular tourist attraction (out of 720) in Paris.

Locks on the Passerelle Debilly Footbridge

Locks on the Passerelle Debilly Footbridge (credit: Jerome Levine)

Under the Bridge

Under the Bridge (credit: Jerome Levine)

In January 2014, two Americans living in Paris, Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, started NoLoveLocks.com to raise public awareness. They say an estimated 700,000 to 1 million locks affixed to its bridges are turning the “City of Love” into the “City of Locks,” with hundreds more appearing each day. The group launched a petition to urge elected officials to take action, collecting more than 8000 signatures in just over three months.

Taylor Huff says hanging locks on historic bridges and monuments is an act of vandalism.

“Our visitors seem to have forgotten about responsible tourism in their quest to leave their mark on Paris but they don’t have that right,” she says. “It is never acceptable to desecrate the history of a place you visit, even in the name of love. We want people to stop romanticizing this trend and find, new less destructive ways to be romantic!”

When I asked Taylor Huff for responsible alternatives for hopeless romantics visiting Paris, she said:

There are so many!

  • In Paris, we have the “I Love You” wall in Montmartre–take a selfie in front of it!
  • Take a romantic picnic on the Ile de la Cité, like Parisians do.
  • Kiss your lover on the bridges (public kissing is encouraged in Paris!)
  • One of our supporters said she bought a lock, took a picture of her boyfriend hanging it on a bridge, but then they unlocked it and took it home as a souvenir–and why not?

Solutions to the epidemic elsewhere:

Recently, love locks became a major headache in New York City, too. No-nonsense maintenance Department of Transportation crews acted decisively, removing more than 5600 love locks from the Brooklyn Bridge, a National Historic Landmark.

At Erzsébet tér in Budapest, Hungary, a 19th-century square popular with students, love locks are affixed to metal grates around trees saving nearby bridges over the Danube.

Erzsébet tér

Tree with love locks at Erzsébet tér (credit: Jerome Levine)

At the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa outside Austin, Texas, the hotel has erected a fence overlooking the pond where guests can bring their own locks to hang or can purchase ones from the spa boutique, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local charity.

A temporary bridge used by guests boarding the Napa Valley Wine Train has been converted to a love locks bridge. Part of a flood control project in the county, the bridge will be removed in 2017 but based on public input, the locks will be relocated elsewhere and have a second life.

In Moscow, Russia, officials have created metallic love trees to hold the locks on the Luzhkov bridge.


[A version of this article was previously published in the Chicago Tribune on 6/17/14.]

See my love lock board on Pinterest.


Have you seen love locks during the course of your travels?

Have strong feelings one way or the other?

Interesting in signing the NoLoveLocks.com petition to save historic sites in Paris? Click here to sign on at Change.org.

  • Reply
    Karen Warren
    June 21, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    I first saw these locks in Verona many years ago – Verona is of course the home of those iconic lovers, Romeo and Juliet! The custom seems to have spread to many other places now.

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    June 21, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I must be living under a rock (or maybe under a bridge?) . While in Venice recently, I saw the locks on the Rialto Bridge and had NO idea what they were…then as soon as I got home, I started hearing about them all over the place.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      June 22, 2014 at 8:34 am

      That is a funny phenomenon that happens often. You aren’t aware of something and then when you are, you see it all over!:-)

  • Reply
    Cameron
    June 22, 2014 at 7:19 am

    These are all fairly new Occurrences, but unfortunately you have missed the first ever one, which is in Riga, Latvia, and has locks dating back to the turn of the century, and of which the entire city is extremely proud, however it only exists on one bridge. Hungary has a long history of them, as does Verona, as you mention, but it is a relatively new phenomenon in Paris. I have also seen them in Cambodia and Israel. Nice story though

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      June 22, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Thanks for visiting! This was originally a “short” I wrote for the Chicago Tribune so I didn’t have a chance to dig into history. I appreciate your adding that information. Seems like the “City of Love” is totally overwhelmed with these locks.

  • Reply
    Jean | Holy Smithereens
    June 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

    I’ve been to the love lock bridge in Paris and I have to say I found it quite unromantic. I remember wishing I was a padlock vendor there for sure I won’t be out of business. And using the proven emotion factor, its not a surprise it’s a hit. I’m afraid I don’t have a better suggestion… whatever happened to the good old exploring the city together, strolling along the park hand in hand, then sit under a tree…K-I-S-S-I-N-G haha 🙂

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      June 23, 2014 at 10:36 am

      Agree, Jean. Paris is so beautiful that a stroll almost anywhere turns out to be pretty romantic:-l

  • Reply
    Suki F
    June 24, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I know that it a fun romantic thing but I would be annoyed if I started seeing lots and lots of them ruining our monuments. Complicated issue!

  • Reply
    Graefyl
    July 1, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I’d heard of these, but not seen any. Not sure what to think of the idea.

  • Reply
    Muza-chan
    July 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

    So cool…

  • Reply
    Peter
    July 3, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Very neat stuff, I wonder if there are any lock bridges in Sydney Australia.

  • Reply
    Raquel
    July 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

    I have been to Paris several times and have never seen the locks. It is good to know there are other places to see this, I am going to have to add it to my bucket list. I personally love the opportunity when people can “put their mark” at a public location as long as it is family-friendly. However, I can see where it would be annoying if it was near where I lived.

  • Reply
    colleen
    October 27, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Silly me! I’ve been hearing of love locks for year and thought it refered to locks of human hair donated for making wigs for cancer patients.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 27, 2014 at 11:28 am

      Yes, Colleen. There is a non-profit called “Locks of Love.”

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