Locks to be cut off his­toric LR bridge

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - NOEL OMAN

The keep­ers of the Junc­tion Bridge have no love lost for the love-struck link­ing their “love locks” to the his­toric bridge.

Today, work­ers will be­gin re­mov­ing thou­sands of locks that ro­man­tic cou­ples have at­tached to the 133-yearold pedes­trian bridge over the Arkansas River be­tween Lit­tle Rock and North Lit­tle Rock.

The prac­tice, which is done on bridges around the world, “ex­ploded” on the Junc­tion Bridge this sum­mer, bridge board Chair­man Sarah Fritschie said.

The amorous tra­di­tion has run afoul of prag­matic au­thor­i­ties else­where, in­clud­ing Brook­lyn and, yes,

“It’s van­dal­ism. It’s the same as tak­ing a magic marker and writ­ing on a wall.” SARAH FRITSCHIE, chair­man of the Junc­tion Bridge Board, who said the locks mar the bridge rail­ings and scrape the paint

even in Paris, the ro­mance cap­i­tal of the world.

The credit, or the blame, for the “love locks” rit­ual has been traced to Fed­erico Moc­cia, an Ital­ian writer. His 2006 novel, I Want You, and sub­se­quent film of the same name fea­tured a hero who locked a chain around a lamp­post on Rome’s old­est bridge, the Ponte Mil­vio, and tossed the key into the Tiber, sym­bol­iz­ing that the cou­ple would be to­gether for­ever.

Pretty soon, locks and chains be­gan ap­pear­ing on the bridge. The rit­ual soon spread to bridges in Paris and other ci­ties. But par­tic­u­larly Paris, where the Pont des Arts, a World Her­itage site, and the tourists who flocked there soon were joined by graf­fiti, pick­pock­ets and ven­dors sell­ing cheap locks.

The prac­tice even­tu­ally spread to 11 bridges across the French cap­i­tal and to other land­marks, in­clud­ing the Eif­fel Tower, to the point that more than 1 mil­lion locks “weigh the city down,” ac­cord­ing to the No Love Locks page on Face­book, which styles it­self as a “grass-roots ef­fort to cre­ate aware­ness of the dam­age to cul­tural her­itage sites by the ‘love locks’ trend.”

Paris banned the prac­tice two years ago. Brook­lyn fol­lowed a year later.

Lo­cally, the prob­lem hasn’t been lim­ited to the Junc­tion Bridge, one of four area pedes­trian river cross­ings.

“Yes, peo­ple have placed them on the Big Dam Bridge and the Two Rivers Bridge,” said Cozetta Jones, spokesman for Pu­laski County. “Our road and bridge crew

cuts them off when they see them.”

But the prac­tice is nowhere near the prob­lem on those bridges that it is on the Junc­tion Bridge, where the locks line the rail­ings on the up­per sec­tion of the bridge, which is ac­ces­si­ble only by stairs or an el­e­va­tor. More locks can be found on the lower level, too.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the pub­lic in­ter­est and love of the Junc­tion Bridge,” Fritschie said in a pre­pared state­ment Tues­day. “An un­in­tended prob­lem is that the me­tal locks are con­tin­u­ously mar­ring the bridge rail­ings and re­mov­ing the paint.”

Fritschie didn’t mince words in an in­ter­view.

“It’s van­dal­ism,” she said. “It’s the same as tak­ing a Magic Marker and writ­ing on a wall.”

She and oth­ers who over­see main­te­nance of the bridge said the locks be­gan ap­pear­ing about two years ago. At that point, work­ers would re­move them ev­ery two or three months, Fritschie said.

But the locks only en­cour­aged more peo­ple to add their own locks, she said.

The en­cum­bered rail­ings are on top of the other van­dal­ism the board has to tackle. Fritschie said $80,000 has been spent re­pair­ing van­dal­ism over the past five years.

“I just signed a check for $7,000 to re­pair an elec­tri­cal panel,” she said.

The bridge el­e­va­tor also is a tar­get for van­dals, Fritschie said.

The bridge is op­er­ated on an an­nual bud­get of more than $100,000, which is made of up of $35,000 an­nual con­tri­bu­tions from Lit­tle Rock, North Lit­tle Rock and Pu­laski County, she said.

“It costs a lot of money to main­tain the bridge,” Fritschie said.

The board is now tak­ing aim at the locks, which come in all sizes, shapes and brands — Master Lock and Brinks ap­pear­ing to be the most com­mon.

Jim McClel­land, who is an en­gi­neer by pro­fes­sion and is the Junc­tion Bridge Board’s vice chair­man, said the locks aren’t enough to af­fect the struc­tural in­tegrity of the bridge. But re­paint­ing the bridge rail­ing would be costly, he said.

Cou­ples gen­er­ally use per­ma­nent mark­ers to put their names or ini­tials and the date on the lock be­fore at­tach­ing the lock to the rail­ing and, pre­sum­ably, toss­ing the key into the river be­low.

So the lock “Brian and Jenny” placed there on June 29, 2016, will soon be gone. So, too, will the one locked by “Bran­don and Tif­fany,” as well as the one be­long­ing to “Jess and Bree.”

Work went into some of the locks. “Shane and Jennifer,” whose lock is dated July 4, 2015, had their names en­graved on their lock inside a heart.

“MFR” and “FST” also had their lock en­graved to mark the 10th an­niver­sary of their mar­riage, Aug. 29.

They won’t get the locks

back. The locks will be re­moved with bolt cut­ters and taken to a scrap yard. Fritschie said she didn’t know how long it will take or how much it will cost.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the locks 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,” McClel­land said.

Brandi Storey and Su­san Rober­son hap­pened onto the bridge Tues­day af­ter­noon for their first and per­haps last en­counter

with the locks. They are teach­ers at St. Theresa Catholic School and spent lunchtime in the River Mar­ket area on a break from do­ing vol­un­teer work at Help­ing Hand, a lo­cal Catholic char­ity.

“I’ve heard of it,” Storey said of the love locks trend. “But I didn’t re­al­ize they were up here.”

Rober­son was sad­dened to learn they would be re­moved.

“We ought to protest,” she said. “It’s all about love. We don’t see that too much any­more.”

Work went into some of the locks. “Shane and Jennifer,” whose lock is dated July 4, 2015, had their names en­graved on their lock inside a heart.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN­JAMIN KRAIN

Work­ers today will be­gin re­mov­ing these and thou­sands of other “love locks” fas­tened to the his­toric Junc­tion Bridge over the Arkansas River be­tween Lit­tle Rock and North Lit­tle Rock.

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