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.
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.
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.