Love unlocked

Paris may not be considered the city of love for much longer. For six years, tourists have engaged in the tradition of “locking” their love onto the bridge Pont des Arts, and throwing the key into the Seine River below. Despite the relatively short life of this tradition, it already garnered an impressive audience—an estimated 700,000 padlocks now hang from Paris’s bridges. However, this is a weight too heavy for the bridge to carry, argues American-born Lisa Anselmo and French-American Lisa Taylor Huff who are trying to do away with the locks.

These two women created the petition “No Love Locks,” because of the negative effect they say the locks are having on historical landmarks. Along with negatively impacting one of Paris’s famous monuments, they claim that the locks are endangering the safety of Parisians and tourists alike. Anselmo and Huff have already recruited 1700 people to sign their petition.

Anselmo describes the situation as “out of control.” She dislikes how the popular act (so popular that Google renamed the Pont de l’Archevêché bridge “Lovelock Bridge” on Google Maps) has become more about “Saying [you] did it” rather than actual romance.

According to many native Parisians who signed the petition due to the “dégradation publique,” the activity is not only destroying the infrastructure but also could be considered vandalism. The two founders argue that not everyone approves of the tradition, especially those who appreciate the historical landmarks of the city.

They suggest that “the weight of the locks presents a safety issue” as well. “The Pont des Arts is just a little footbridge and is now holding 93 metric tonnes from the locks; regularly the grill-work collapses. The city replaces it and two weeks later it fills up again. Sadly a ban seems to be the only way.”

While Paris is perhaps the best-known city for love locks, similar rituals are performed on bridges worldwide. Some European cities have already begun to revoke the tradition. In September of 2012 the legislature in Rome made plans to remove all of the locks from the Ponte Milvio, a bridge that dates back to 200 B.C., stating the goal was to “restore decorum” to the bridge. This plan followed the legislature’s failed 2007 plan that called for a €50 fine for couples who were caught attaching locks to the bridge. Dublin city officials removed all locks off the Ha’penny bridge after concerns about the stability of the structure.

For now, the tradition remains intact. However, like the love they represent, the locks may not be permanent. While the activity has been popular with visitors, it is not always well received by the locals. Olivier Passelecq, mayor of the relevant Paris neighborhood, told CNN, “The public has to know that a public monument is not there just for lovers. [Pont des Artes] has an historical perspective as one of the most beautiful spots in Paris between the French Institute and the Louvre.”

Fortunately, on the official Paris website visitors can send a digital “e-lock.” Meanwhile, the Paris government continues to search for a way to balance tourism to the city with the concerns of local residents.