Joseph Syrnick has nothing against love. In fact, when the CEO of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation first saw that smitten couples were memorializing their love on the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk by attaching personalized locks to it, he thought it was cute.
“The problem is,” he said, “it does get out of hand.”
It’s unclear at what point Philadelphia couples started latching these “love locks”— a padlock on which a couple writes their initials, then affixes to a bridge — on the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk railings. Syrnick said workers started noticing them on the Schuylkill River Parks Connector Bridge over the railroad at Spruce Street. This week, Inquirer architecture columnist Inga Saffron noted on Facebook that she spotted two locks along the boardwalk.
Though those two lonely locks near Locust Street were the only ones along the trail that we could locate, we still wondered: Is this going to become a thing?
Syrnick said that though “love is wonderful,” the Schuylkill River Development Corporation that maintains the not-even-3-year-old Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk plans to remove the locks as workers find them. While he said the weight of the locks can be a problem, “it’s more of a housekeeping or tidiness issue.” He also said there’s safety concerns associated them.
“People start putting bigger ones on, and some of them stick out,” he said. “If somebody were to be walking down there and fall off a bike or hit a railing with locks sticking out, it could be worse.”
“Love locks” originated in Europe — Syrnick said he saw tens of thousands on a bridge in Cologne, Germany — and some historians believe they date back to Serbia during World War I, while others say the romantic custom started in Italy. In 2014, part of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris actually collapsed while being weighed down by so many locks, leading officials to cut off close to a million the following year.
The practice is quite common just across the state in Pittsburgh, including on the Schenley Bridge in the city’s Oakland section and on three other bridges that connect the city’s Downtown with its North Shore. And Pittsburgh, like Philly, cuts ’em off. Pittsburgh city officials are periodically removing the locks, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in February, due to concerns about the bridges accumulating weight over time.
“I don’t know if anybody envisioned it would become as popular as it has,” Mike Gable, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, told the PG.
And that’s exactly the proliferation Syrnick said he wants to avoid in Philly, so the Development Corporation decided to nip it in the bud before the city’s new boardwalk became overrun with locks memorializing Philadelphians’ love.
“We at some point got to the point of just removing them, not making a big deal out of it,” Syrnick said. “And people got the message.”