As ‘love locks’ proliferate across D.C., city workers ready their bolt cutters


Lovers have taken to placing locks on the railings of the Key Bridge, like their European counterparts, seen here on Tuesday. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

David and Jie’s love will last forever. Or at least, it will last until a city worker cuts the brass padlock bearing their engraved names — within an engraved heart — from the pedestrian railing on the Key Bridge. Then their love will go into the recycling bin.

If the “love lock” is Cupid’s latest romantic bolt, District transportation officials are ready with the bolt cutters.

“Our first priority is to protect the integrity of the bridge,” said District Department of Transportation spokesman Reggie Sanders, who only recently learned that a spate of love locks had shown up along the Key Bridge and a few other pathways in the city. “If this is something that would be a threat to pedestrian or vehicular safety in any way, we’ll have to take care of them.”

The tradition of snapping engraved padlocks onto bridges and fences has long been a thing in Europe and, more recently, in New York. The trend, of course, updates an ancient impulse: Young people have been marking their love in public since the first “A+E 4ever” was carved into a tree in the Garden of Eden.

But the love hasn’t been shared by municipal authorities who say the accumulated weight of countless love locks adds up to a public hazard. In Paris last summer, part of a bridge railing collapsed under an accretion of padlocks as thick as metallic shrubbery along the walkway. In New York, the transportation department has an ongoing removal campaign against thousands of locks appearing on city bridges.


An especially elaborate padlock on the Key Bridge. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

In Washington, the load of love locks is still small. The ARLnow Web site reported a few on Key Bridge, and others have appeared along a pedestrian walkway that connects the intersection of Second and E streets SW to a parking lot under Interstate 395.

A faded sign there instructs in French: “Verrouiller Votre Amour.” Lock your love.

Twenty-two couples have left behind combination and key locks — including one adorned with glitter and a large red heart — on a fence guarding a litter-filled patch of greenery.

Fareen Wu, 50, had been puzzled by the curious collection for months, speculating each time she walked between her job at the U.S. House of Representatives child-care center and the lot underneath the freeway.

“I knew there had to be a connection to something,” she said. Were there lockers nearby? Some sort of public art project?

“I just couldn’t figure it out,” Wu said. “That’s nice, though. A symbol of love.”

On the Key Bridge, some of the love locks are carefully engraved, some inscribed by crude permanent marker.


Lovers have taken to placing locks on the railings of the Key Bridge, like their European counterparts, seen here on Tuesday. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

“AEH + JMK 8/13/14,” reads a brass Master hanging over the Potomac on the Key Bridge. “Nicole and Manfred,” under a bower of hearts, adorns a pink Arbus lock. “Helen,” written in nail polish, is attached to an old iron padlock that suggests romantic interests either antique or kinky.

Some are not inscribed, such as the pink-and-purple combination locks hanging anonymously together halfway across the span. One Wordlock brand padlock features a dial full of letters instead of numbers. Alas, LOVE was not the combination.

“It’s sweet,” said Adriana Schantz, a visitor from Melbourne, Fla., crossing the bridge Tuesday. She had noticed the scattered locks but thought they had something to do with bicycle parking. “It’s like leaving a little piece of you behind.”

“It’s better than graffiti,” offered her husband, Dean Schantz.

And not as permanent as a tattoo. As any longtime bicyclist can attest, a padlock is not forever when bolt cutters are nearby. But the symbolism of the love lock is irresistible. Along Paris’s Pont des Arts, the tradition is for lovers to snap the lock closed together and throw the key into the River Seine. It was all amour until a seven-foot section of the railing collapsed in June, and the bridge had to be evacuated.

Citing the risk to walkers and cars — as well as the strain on historic ironwork — Brooklyn Bridge workers have cut off more than 9,000 padlocks since this past winter.

“When a minor component such as 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,” New York City Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nicole Garcia wrote in an e-mail.

In other words, when it comes to love locks, don’t get too attached.

Steve Hendrix came to The Post more than ten years ago from the world of magazine freelancing and has written for just about every page of the paper: Travel, Style, the Magazine, Book World, Foreign, National and, most recently, the Metro section’s Enterprise Team.
Rachel Sadon is the local news editor for Express
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