The REAL Issue with Love Locks

Before we get into the nitty gritty about the "love" locks on the old bridge (the following discussion), let's first consider what is really going on, and why the locks are symptomatic of the non-transparent, cavalier, and callous way our City government works. The issue isn't just locks on a bridge. The real question is, Why are those locks there and who has allowed them to be there on a public bridge, in plain violation of sections of the City Code and the Code of Virginia regarding nuisances, graffiti, vandalism, and public hazards.

Before the first "love" lock appeared on the Hague bridge, if citizens had been asked if they wanted to see a slew of rusting padlocks cluttering the old bridge, does anyone really think a majority of them would have voted yes?

What actually happened was that the locks started appearing on the bridge, and soon after that, Lori Crouch, the City of Norfolk's Public Relations Manager, publicly announced in the Virginian-Pilot (March 31, 2014) that Norfolk "loves the love" and the City of Norfolk has no plans to remove the locks and in the Virginian-Pilot (April 30, 2014) that the locks "aren't hurting anything."

Apparently someone Downtown had decided that Norfolk needs love locks, possibly to make it more inviting to stereotypical Millennials or Hipsters.

Meanwhile, citizens pointed out to the City that the locks are graffiti, vandalism, and nuisances, and according to the City Code, they should immediately be removed, but the City refused to remove them. And several more times its Public Relations Manager publicly invited people to lock their locks to the bridge.

So there you have it. The questions — the important questions — are, Who in the City government would subvert the City Code just to see those locks on the bridge? And why?


Scenic and Serene

The old footbridge over the Hague,

gateway to the Historic Ghent Neighborhood:

History of the Hague Footbridge


Before the Locks

The tranquil old bridge in early 2014, its rails quiet, clean, and comforting:


And Now

Rails bristling with a shabby slew of angular, rusting chunks of metal

— padlocks, bike locks, chains, cables, etc. —

and all in the name of "love"?

Love of what?

Photo Album of Love Locks on the Hague Bridge


"Love" Locks

"I'm in love — so I get to trash your bridge."

Love locks are supposed to be about love. The idea of locking padlocks to bridges and tossing the keys into the water below is that locks are supposed to represent permanence and be permanent, just like the love of the people who locked them to the bridge is supposed to be.

The Origin of Love Locks

The downside is what these locks — hundreds, even thousands, of them — do to a bridge. Self-expression crosses the line when it commandeers a scenic and serene old public bridge, trashes its appearance and its character, makes it troublesome to maintain, threatens its structure, and even compromises the safety of people using the bridge.

Joyous, frivolous, spontaneous self-expression is a wonderful thing, as when kids draw on sidewalks with chalk. It's lots of fun. They get creative, draw whatever they like. Later, the chalk simply wears off and washes away. But if the kids were using paint to do their thing or using some slick substance that could cause people to slip on the sidewalk, fall, and get hurt, the juvenile self-expression might not be so readily tolerated.

Jonathan Jones, art critic for the Guardian, wrote that attaching "love" locks to bridges is “as stupid as climbing a mountain and leaving a crisp packet at the top, or seeking out the most unspoilt beach and stubbing out cigarettes in the sand. Seriously. This is not a romantic thing to do. It is a wanton and arrogant act of destruction. It is littering. It is an attack on the very beauty that people supposedly travel to Paris or Rome to see.”


AltDaily: The Case Against Love Locks

One Love Lockster's Regrets

And Another's



"The International Campaign Entitled Lovelocks"

according to the City's Public Relations Manager

Norfolk's Public Relations Manager, who used to report the news for a local TV station (and said questionable things there, too), likes to go on about the “international campaign entitled Lovelocks,” as if there were some sort of enlightened cause behind the padlocks. The truth is, love locks are merely an inconsiderate copycat fad run amok, with thoughtless people everywhere — "Hey, everyone else is doing it, so why not us?" — feeling entitled and emboldened to lock padlocks to any bridge they please, and apparently the more tranquil and scenic the bridge, the better. People and cities everywhere are now trying to put an end to the blight on their bridges. For example, Cincinnati's Purple People Bridge.

Similar graffiti/vandalism defacing our national parks

Everywhere tourists go, the obnoxious fad follows


Padlock Graffiti

There are always plenty of people who will do things without realizing or considering the consequences, or without caring about them. So why wouldn’t such people trash the Hague footbridge and turn its rails into hazards when the City’s Public Relations Manager announces in the Virginian-Pilot (March 31, 2014) that love locks are welcome in Norfolk and the City of Norfolk has no plans to remove them? She also told the Virginian-Pilot (April 30, 2014) that the locks "aren't hurting anything" and there's "no evidence" that they had anything to do with other vandalism that has occurred on the bridge.

And why the Hague bridge? Why has the City of Norfolk singled it out as the one-and-only bridge in Norfolk that has to endure these locks? The City did not take a vote. It did not consult any of its citizens before it decided to allow anyone to slap padlocks of any size and shape and rustiness and dangerousness on the old bridge.



A Small Problem?

Some people like to point out that there are much more serious issues to worry about than padlocks on a bridge. While this is certainly true, it doesn't follow that we should therefore ignore the locks and let them keep accumulating on the bridge.

If we cannot solve a relatively minor problem as the locks, we might as well give up in advance on tackling anything more serious.

But maybe the locks are a more serious problem than we've imagined. Maybe it depends on how willing we are to overlook their potential to injure people.


A Protest and a Point

A local artist creates some gigantic "love locks" out of foam cooler boxes and swimming pool noodles — resourceful! He hangs them on the bridge rails. And why not? After all, anything goes on the rails of the Hague footbridge, right? If those padlocks and chains and cables, etc. already there are not graffiti and vandalism, is anything forbidden?


"Oh no!"

Love lock protest art must be removed

— but not the love locks

"And if any giant locks go back up, a city public works crew will remove them because they protrude into the path used by walkers and bikers," city spokeswoman Lori Crouch said.

Those created things were made out of foam. Those real store-bought padlocks, which also protrude into the path used by walkers and bikers, are made of rusty, sharp metal — yet the City allows them to remain on the bridge rails.


Lock Metamorphosis

Snip a couple of locks, and you get a couple of beautiful swans:


Ask Your Politicians

Ask the members of the Norfolk City Council why they are so invested in keeping the locks on the bridge, since they have very good reasons, and excellent legal justifications, to remove the locks and keep them removed. According to the City Code of Ordinances, the locks clearly qualify as graffiti and hazardous nuisances.

Besides the sheer common-sense obviousness of it, it is a proven fact that locks on a bridge rail can injure people and are therefore hazards. So do the politicians downtown think the locks will probably never injure anyone? Is it just a cold-hearted actuarial calculation to them? After all, they won't have to pay out any of their money if someone gets hurt. Does the risk of angering any voters who might like the locks outweigh the risk of someone getting hurt?

The more locks, the more likely the mishaps — and the locks are only growing in number and spreading out along the rails. Plus they are located right next to where people (including kids who are naturally careless), walk, jog, bike, skateboard, hoverboard, roller blade, etc. As pointed out before, the locks are even bunched roughly at face and eye level for many young children.

When someone does get hurt, most likely a child, what will the politicians say to the victim? Why weren't you more careful? Why didn't you see that coming? Why didn't you take steps to prevent it?


The Park Bench Analogy

Would the City remove those locks post haste, without further discussion, if it were rumored that the “homeless” were putting them on the bridge, and the locks were associated with drunkenness and prostitution?

Norfolk removes Ghent park benches to combat crime

Snipping and chucking a bunch of cheap padlocks has gotta be easier than uprooting and hauling off 70 park benches.

Imagine that, parks without park benches — makes as much sense as a bridge with padlocks.



See Your City Council in Action

Here is a video of the Norfolk City Council talking about the love locks at one of its work sessions (you can move the red ball to minute 39 where the love lock discussion begins). A staffer advises the council members that the locks are not graffiti, not harmful to the bridge, and not hazards, and no one bothers to question any of these demonstrably false assertions.

Note that this work session took place after repeated requests were made to the City to explain why it does not consider the love locks to be graffiti, and these requests went unanswered and have yet to be answered. Also, prior to this work session, all council members were notified about the exmple of the woman in Canada who was seriously injured by love locks on a bridge rail.

One council person, talking about the locks, claims "we've only heard from four individuals" and "everybody likes them" and "they're that international movement." The session ends with a laugh about "Valentine's Day coming up" — because the locks are all about love, right?


Read The City of Norfolk's Position


What Needs To Be Done

The Norfolk City Council needs to get real about the Hague footbridge being defaced and made hazardous by so-called love locks. The council needs to declare that such locks are graffiti and are hazards and are unacceptable on a public bridge. The council must remove the locks and henceforth regularly inspect the bridge and remove any new locks that are attached to it — just as many other cities do with their bridges.


Who to COMPLAIN to about the Locks

Think the locks are ugly? Think they're a danger to people, especially kids? Then COMPLAIN about them. Click on the links below, write a line or two, then punch SEND.

Our City leaders:

Norfolk City Manager

Members of the Norfolk City Council

Dr. Demetria Lindsay, Director of Public Health


Ghent neighborhood (north of bridge) leaders:

Ghent Neighborhood League

Ghent Business Association


Freemason neighborhood (south of bridge) leaders:

Freemason Street Area Association


In Case of Injury

If you or your child are injured by the locks, don't just complain to the City and collect quiet settlement. Let the public know.

Read about the woman on her bike who was seriously injured when she snagged a love lock.

Meanwhile, tell your kids to BE CAREFUL when they bike or skate near the rails of the bridge.



"Free Our Bridge" Petition

To the Norfolk City Council

"We, the undersigned citizens of Norfolk, Virginia, DO NOT LIKE the padlocks that have accumulated on the rails of the Hague footbridge. We believe these locks are ruining the appearance of the bridge, are potential hazards to people using the bridge, and invite more locks and other forms of graffiti and vandalism on the bridge. We request that the City of Norfolk remove these locks as soon as possible and henceforth keep the bridge free of all such locks and other forms of graffiti and vandalism."

Over 200 residents of the Hague neighborhood (the people who live nearest the bridge) signed this petition.


Remember the simple, clean, non-lock-cluttered old days

— as rtecent as 2014, when this photo was taken?


Alternative Venues for the Padlock Graffiti

Why should the old Hague footbridge be the designated repository for love locks? Why shouldn't the City of Norfolk provide dedicatedf alternative venues, just as other cities have?


Or how about the Chrysler Museum?

The perfect venue for classy performance art like padlock graffiti?

Le Pup Legúp


"Happy Padlock Pruning!"

Meanwhile, back at the bridge: