As thousands of fans streamed across the Roberto Clemente Bridge Tuesday night before the Pirates wild card game against the Cincinnati Reds, their eyes were fixed on the bright lights of PNC Park, lit up for its debut as a venue for postseason baseball.
In all the excitement, hardly anyone stopped to examine the dozens of padlocks that have been attached to the bridge's fencing, many inscribed with the names of couples who, as part of a trend popularized by an Italian youth romance author, attach the locks as a symbol of their undying affection and toss the keys into the water below.
Hugh Reilly and his girlfriend, Lilly Neaffer, both of Altoona, were heading to the game when they stopped on the bridge to pose for a photo.
"I think it's very romantic in a way," Mr. Reilly said. "The locks to me are symbols of love that will never come undone."
Ms. Neaffer was less moved.
"Until the city comes and rips it off," she said, hustling Mr. Reilly along to PNC Park. "I get it. ... I'm in a baseball mind right now."
The trend is ascribed to Italian author Federico Moccia in his novels "Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo" (Three Meters Above the Sky) and "Ho Voglio di Te" (I Want You), both of which have been made into films.
It has become so popular in Europe that thousands of "lucchetti dell'amore" cover bridges in Paris, Rome, Venice and other cities like barnacles on the hull of a ship, prompting concerns about damage to historic structures and complaints that the locks amount to graffiti.
The lucchetti crossed the Atlantic several years ago, with dozens of the locks sprouting on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York by 2011, according to news reports, requiring periodic removal by transportation workers.
Neither Pittsburgh city officials nor their counterparts in Allegheny County, who are responsible for maintaining the Clemente, Andy Warhol, Rachel Carson, Philip Murray and David McCullough bridges, have any plans to start removing the locks, although they don't encourage the practice.
"It's not something at this point that we're concerned with," said Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs.
Marissa Doyle, press secretary for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the city hadn't received any complaints about the locks.
"Of course, if that were to change, it would be something we would look into," Ms. Doyle said.
The locks have been embraced by couples looking for new ways to memorialize their commitments, said Debbie Peysar, a former wedding planner whose Hurricane, Utah-based company, Lovelocks Inc., sells custom locks as well as "lovescapes," separate structures that allow locks to be displayed without damaging or defacing property.
The lovescapes -- like the 10-by-10-foot dream catcher installed at Zion National Park in Utah, Ms. Peysar said -- were intended to preempt the lovelock backlash that has sprung up in cities like Venice, where the La Nuova newspaper reported in August on citizens declaring a "Bolt Cutter Day" to remove the locks.
The company also sells custom locks with no keys to make the practice more environmentally friendly.
"I think people are always looking for different ways to be creative with their relationships," Ms. Peysar said. "It's kind of like carving your initials in a tree."
Joshua D. O'Malley and his wife, Lisa Shuster O'Malley, snapped a padlock onto the Schenley Bridge when they got married at the nearby Phipps Conservatory last year. Mr. O'Malley's family is from Massachusetts and his wife is from Steubenville, Ohio, so they picked Pittsburgh for their wedding as a central location. They live in San Francisco, where they both work for the San Francisco Opera.
"For her, it's very sentimental," Mr. O'Malley said of the lock. "I'm a guy, so I see it a little differently. ... It's a reminder. If we ever go back someday, it'd be a nice surprise if it's still there."
The O'Malleys' lock joined hundreds of others attached to the fencing at the Schenley Bridge, where passers-by slowed to take a look Monday evening.
"It doesn't bother me," said Bethany Landby, 25. "I wondered what it was."
Ian McGowan, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh who was walking his dog, agreed that the locks shouldn't be considered an eyesore.
"I think it's quite sweet," Dr. McGowan said. "It's all about relationships, isn't it?"
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909. First Published October 5, 2013 4:15 AM