The Roosevelt Island tram, which runs between the island and 2nd Avenue and East 60th Street, is easily the best 4-minute ride in town. New York City’s only tramway was constructed in 1976 as a temporary means to shuttle residents of the then-new Roosevelt Island housing developments to and from Manhattan, and even when a subway stop at Roosevelt Island was opened in 1989, the tram was so popular it remained in operation.

The Tramway is unique as the only aerial commuter tram in the United States. It was designed by Vonroll of Switzerland and travels a distance of 3,100 feet. Since it actually rises above the slightly off-parallel Queensboro Bridge, it provides excellent views of that structure, as well as panoramic views of the surrounding area for miles, but the trip takes only about four minutes. It was also the last NYC transport to accept tokens, doing so into the early 2000s.

On October 11, 2013, The Daily News printed an article about an idea by an entity known as the Forum for Urban Design to extend the tram west to Central Park and east to Queens Plaza, integrating it even further into NYC’s transportation network.

I like this idea — it would greatly speed up travel between the boroughs — but in the end, cost considerations and the wishes of NIMBYs on both sides of the river will decide if this is a practicable idea, or mere fantasy.


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12 Responses to EXTEND THE TRAM?

  1. j.b. diGriz says:

    I’d love to see a tram run over Central Park, to make cross-park connections better. Going east-west has been a problem for forever. Say, between Museum of Natural History b/c station and the Met. That would be amazing. Think of the views. Thing would be running packed night and day.

    • Ken B. says:

      The history of Central Park is chock-full of schemes that would have consumed acre after acre of this green oasis. Most were well intended, like this suggestion for mass-transit improvement by extending the tram cross-town above the park. It follows by over one hundred years a desire to extend the Sixth Avenue El “above” the park from 59th Street to Harlem. Neither are benign to the park. Fortunately, neither have, nor will, happen.

  2. Bill says:

    Extending the tramway to Queens Plaza might be feasible, even with the explosive rise in property values in Long Island City, but the cost of acquiring land for the towers in the East 60s is probably incalculable.

    • Danny S. says:

      If the tramway ran directly over 60th Street, the towers could straddle the street and have their bases on the sidewalks on either side. That way, no land would have to be acquired for the towers. Some years back, the temporary entrance to the northbound FDR Drive was at 60th St. and ran directly under one of the tramway towers. But can the tramway technology handle anything other than a run between two endpoints? I’m not sure how that could work – are there any aerial trams with three or more stations? And to head west from the current terminal at Second Avenue, it seems that at least the building immediately west of the terminal would have to go, since it would appear to block the way.

  3. William H says:

    How would they extend it to the park? Between the towers and the idea of a tram navigating side streets, I can’t see why anyone would accept it. Plus the view from the car would be strange unlike the clear views from 2nd Ave to Roosevelt Island. Extending it to Queens makes sense if only because of the sight lines as it goes over the rest of the river.

  4. John T says:

    A cute idea, would probably be very popular, but then it could not possibly handle the quantity of people who’d want to ride it, unless the fares rose to something $10 a person.

  5. Tal Barzilai says:

    I don’t know if this is really a good idea. Manhattan itself hasn’t had a lot of overhead wiring since taking down the streetcars and trolleys. Another good question about this would be if it will still stop where it already does or if the new tramway will just bypass it all. Overall, I’m sort of mixed on this issue, because I see both the ups and the downs to this idea.

    • therealguyfaux says:

      Actually, the streetcars in Manhattan ran with power collected from a third rail, accessed via a slot between the tracks, like the cable for the San Francisco cable cars. This, as a result of the massive downing of power and telephone lines in the Great Blizzard of 1888– when electric traction streetcars became feasible in the 1890’s, the city fathers wanted the “wires” (i.e., the power source) underground, as with the power and phone lines, in Manhattan at any rate; the parts of the Bronx already annexed could use overhead wire, and the city of Brooklyn and Queens County, being independent of the City at that point, opted for overhead wire too.

  6. Peter says:

    It’s supposedly one of the very few forms of mass transit which consistently turns a profit at the farebox.

  7. The Cheese says:

    We have a similar (but far newer, opened in Dec 2006) aerial tram here in Portland, OR which connects the Willamette riverside Oregon Health Sciences campus with the Marquam Hill campus, a bit more than a half-mile away and 500 feet higher in elevation.

    It would be difficult to extend the Roosevelt Island tram, as 1 more stop would halve frequency on the existing two stops, additional stops would decrease the return-trip frequency even further.
    Adding cars is impossible, without adding parallel tram lines, as each tram line can only support 1 pair of cars.

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