We’ve all seen bridges around the world bedecked in shiny (or not so shiny) locks with engraved initials or messages to lovers, best friends or family. Combing through them is great for nosy ones like me who want a glimpse into other people’s hearts. Maybe you’ve even added your own to leave a lasting mark of your journey. Yet whilst love lock bridges look cute, they might not be as great as they seem…
One of the most famous love lock bridges, the Pont des Arts in Paris, took a stand against the thousands of padlocks along the bridge back in 2015 by removing every single one and any that came after. Why? Because they’re actually dangerous. Adding all those metal locks to a bridge that was built to hold and carry a certain weight creates structural damage and even the risk of the bridge collapsing into the river.
Over time, the historic bridge started having problems. 7,500 kilos of locks were being added every year; a weight that lead to one side of the fence actually falling off. And yet despite notices not to do it, people continued to leave their tokens of love, leading to the bridge railing eventually being replaced with glass panels. The Seine may not be too deep and this may not seem like such a big deal, but imagine a bridge collapsing or buckling over a harbour or forest, hundreds of metres in the air? Not so lovely.
The City of Paris was in uproar when they took down the famous locks (despite auctioning them off to raise money for refugee charities) and since then it’s been a contentious issue around the world. Headlines were made recently in Australia after locks were taken down at Point Danger in Queensland, while the Junction Bridge over the Arkansas River in the USA also announced they’d be removing all their locks at the end of last year. Jim McClelland from the Junction Bridge Board Vice Chair explained to the Arkansas Times: “Unfortunately, the padlocks cannot be returned to the owners since there is no contact information for each owner and no one received permission to attach the locks to the railings.”
It’s a sticky issue and adding to the potential collapse of bridges and cost to local councils, there’s also the environmental factor to consider with love lock bridges. People snap on their lock, then throw the key in the water below, leading to pollution through rust, harm to local wildlife and even blocking drains which can lead to floods. Many people also think it’s just not aesthetically pleasing, with concerned locals throughout Europe saying their beautiful historic bridges are being turned into unsightly lumps of metal. Sadly, it seems that tourists are for the most part to blame, with local groups condemning the actions of ‘selfish’ visitors who feel the need to leave their mark on a city rather than just enjoying it:
“Unfortunately, no matter what obvious efforts the city has made to stop “love locks” on the Pont des Arts, people still attempt to hang locks there” Lisa Anselmo, co-founder of the No Love Locks Facebook group told The Local “It’s a real middle finger from some thoughtless tourists to the people of Paris. There are still over ten bridges on the Seine plagued with locks. Only a ban on “love locks” will give the city the power it needs to stop this trend.”
There are, of course, some cities doing their best to offer people the best of both worlds. They offer monuments or rails nearby in a safe location for people to share their symbol of unbreakable love. Moscow in Russia, for example have installed metal trees for people to hang their locks from, resulting in super cute pieces of street art with meaning.
So, there is a silver lining after all!
Whether you adore love locks or think there’s a better way of expressing your love, the takeaway is to be mindful of the impact your small action could have.