Lovebird visitors to the Pont des Arts, a footbridge in Paris, typically mark the occasion by fixing a padlock to its handrail and tossing the key into the Seine to symbolize their eternal devotion. Yesterday evening, police evacuated the bridge after a 2.4-meter section of railing collapsed under the weight of their adoration.
From the Agency France-Presse:
“The bridge was immediately evacuated and closed,” local police told AFP.
An architect and local officials rushed to the site and a barrier put in place to stop further access. Police said the bridge would be re-opened by Monday.
The locks started appearing in 2008, and authorities and activists alike have asked visitors to cease the practice since then, citing concerns about weight and aesthetics. The Paris city government warned about the potential for collapse in 2010:
Frequent inspections are carried out in search of segments of bent grating that must be removed and replaced. Two railings were replaced in July and one in August. Is the Passerelle des Arts to become a victim of the lovebirds who wish to solemnise their enduring love?
Perhaps the collapse will serve as a warning to NYC visitors, who recently began attaching love locks to the Brooklyn Bridge. Said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nicole Garcialast month:
“When a minor component such as a hand railing is impacted by the number or weight of the locks, these custom elements of this national landmark must be removed and a replacement must be newly fabricated, further increasing costs.”
Campaigners Lisa Taylor Huff and Lisa Anselmo are denouncing what they call a padlock plague, warning of alleged safety risks and arguing the craze is now a cliche. Their petition, atwww.change.org , says “the heart of Paris has been made ugly” by the locks and the Seine has been polluted by thousands of keys.
Plus, they say, tourists shouldn’t be fooled: The locks aren’t forever. City crews regularly remove them as they replace damaged structures. One strained rail weighing 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) was recently taken down, a Paris official said.
What qualifies as an eyesore depends on the beholder. Some historians once felt the Pont des Arts itself — whose origins date to Napoleon’s wish in 1804 for a footbridge — impeded views of the Louvre, City Hall’s website says.
The petition has garnered more than 5,200 signatures so far, mostly by French people, Huff said. She and Anselmo make their case on www.nolovelocks.com , but some comments posted there show not all are favorable to their crusade.
The city official said municipal architects have examined and generally discounted the alleged risk that bridge railings might not withstand the weight and could topple over onto tour-boat gawkers.
And now the locks have become an attraction in themselves.
“That’s the other sad part: People used to come here to look at the view,” Huff said.
“They just see the wall of metal,” she said of young children too short to see over the railings. “Is that going to be their memory of Paris?”
On one recent day, Chinese women snapped photos of the Eiffel Tower from the bridge, then posed for one with the locks as a backdrop. A young woman cried with joy and wiped her eyes as a kneeling suitor shouted in English, “She said ‘Yes’!” to the applause of other tourists. A vendor quickly folded up a sheet showing his padlocks for sale and fled as four police officers approached.
Huff claimed the illegal vendors sometimes damage railings, prompting city crews to replace them for safety reasons — thus creating more space for the locks they sell.
Other cities have found ways to cope with the lock mania. In Russia, artificial “trees” offer a dedicated padlock area. A mayor in Florence, Italy, reportedly has threatened fines for those who put locks on the famed Ponte Vecchio.
Some have suggested lighter plastic locks, while a Paris website in English suggests that lovers can exchange “e-locks” instead.
Two years ago, contemporary artist Loris Greaud took about 130 kilograms (285 pounds) of locks off the Pont des Arts, melted them and cast a series of sculptures called “Tainted Love.”
When asked about the anti-lock campaign, tourists showed a mix of understanding and exasperation.