Roosevelt Island Tram



Photo of the Week: Roosevelt Island Tram

#newyork #nyc #midtown #rooseveltislandtram #newyorkcity

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Photo of the Week / Roosevelt Island Tram
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Roosevelt Island Tram: 40 Years of Cable Transit

From a temporary transport solution to now an iconic symbol of Roosevelt Island, the Roosevelt Island Tramway has come along way in its 40 years.

Today it continues to provide the millions of annual commuters and visitors with a high level of service between the island and Manhattan. Most residents cannot comprehend a life without the tramway.

While the system did experience a few headline grabbing incidents along the way, the system remains one of the safest and reliable forms of transport in New York. In fact, since 2010, riders have been treated to a fully modernized aerial lift with even greater availability, capacity and wind resistance.

To help celebrate the 40th birthday of the Tram, we’ve gathered a few of our favourite photos of the system!

Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island Tramway (ca 1981). Image by Edmund Vincent Gillon via MCNY.

Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island Tramway (ca 1981). Image by Edmund Vincent Gillon via MCNY.

#rooseveltislandtram #newyork #nyc

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Roosevelt Island Tram
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Privacy, Proximity and Urban Cable Cars: Roosevelt Island Tram

Last week I had a post which asked readers to identify if they saw anything peculiar with the Roosevelt Island Tram. We’ve received some great responses and Erik was able to pinpoint exactly what I was looking for.

We noticed that a new building was being constructed literally only a few meters from the existing Tram alignment with (presumably) little or no debate on how this affects privacy of future tenants. And perhaps strangest of all, the typical NIMBYism or NOMBYism, was absent.

A closer look. Image by Martina Komosa.

A closer look. Image by Martina Komosa.

An even closer look. Image by Nicholas Chu.

An even closer look. Image by Martin Komosa.

From my brief conversation with the Tram attendant, it appears that this building here will be of the mixed-use office/condo variety.

So of course, given the proximity of the RIT to the building, this brings up several questions about how urban cable cars and privacy are interrelated.

Why is it that some systems spark such huge debates on neighbourhood privacy (i.e. Portland Aerial Tram and Burnaby Mountain Gondola) while other cases (i.e. in Medellin and this one here) goes almost unnoticed? Is it context? Culture? Design?

I don’t have a precise answer nor am I a psychology major, but I presume the reason is somewhat comparable to the chicken and egg dilemma. In other words, if a Tram line exists prior to new tenants moving in, the CPT is automatically acceptable whereas if this situation was flipped around (Tram comes in after), there will be significant debate on privacy invasion.

Undoubtedly as more cities are now studying the implementation of CPT in dense urban areas, more planners and decision-makers must begin to fully understand and address this privacy issue and develop the appropriate mitigation strategies.



Tram Trivia: RIT, New York

So a few weeks ago I was in New York City for a short weekend jaunt. Obviously as a true transit geek, no trip to the Big Apple would ever be complete without a visit to the Roosevelt Island Tram.

Upon arrival, everything seemed normal for a Saturday night ride — there were few commuters waiting patiently while several tourists were noisily snapping away with their DSLRs (myself included).

Once the cabin arrived, we quickly boarded the carrier and took in the nighttime panoramic views.

However, halfway through the ride I quickly noticed something a litte unusual — something that you wouldn’t expect to see in a “Western” urban aerial system. Can anyone spot it?

Looking into Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. Image by Martin Komosa.

Looking into Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. Image by Martin Komosa.



Roosevelt Island Tram & Hurricane Sandy

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, transit users line the streets of Manhattan in wait for buses (as seen from above in the Roosevelt Island Tramway - which was barely even affected). Image via flickr user Mark Lyon.

Anyone care to venture a guess as to which public transit system in New York City was first to whir back to life after the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy?

As frequent commenter Giorgio first mentioned here, the Roosevelt Island Tramway was back up and running days before any other fixed link transit system in the greater New York Area.

If you’ll recall, virtually all transit in New York was suspended the evening of Sunday, October 28th. All transit, rationally, was suspended on October 30th effectively shutting the city down entirely.

Then, after the worst of the storm passed, the Roosevelt Island Tram re-opened for regular service on Tuesday, October 30th at 4pm – just 43 hours after it was shut down. Limited subway service wouldn’t resume for another 2 days after that.

I’ve intentionally hesitated to discuss this matter as I don’t want us to be seen as leveraging a catastrophe to further our own goals. But after reading in Transportation Nation that gaps in the NYC subway remain “stubbornly unrepaired,” I thought it important to bring this issue up.

By bringing it up, however, I fully understand that I risk being seen as a gloater. So let’s just clear that up right now: I’m not gloating. Nor am I indicting any of New York City’s fine transit authorities, the MTA or its capabilities in a post-Sandy world. I’m just stating a fact.

Look, Hurricane Sandy was brutal and wreaked a degree of havoc on North America’s most extensive transit system never before seen. Yet amidst all that disaster, the Roosevelt Island Tramway was resilient in a way that no other system was.

That’s a story worth telling.

Does that change anything about the current state of transit in New York? Of course not. But it is a tiny victory that hasn’t received even the modicum of attention it probably deserves.

It’s all fine and well to disregard the physical characteristics that define a transit technology and focus purely on the issue of service levels and geometry.

But at the end of the day there come times when the physical characteristics of a transit technology directly impacts said service levels and geometry.

It’s like saying a basketball player’s ability has nothing to do with his height and weight. In polite company that’s what we’re supposed to say. But we all know full-well that Shaq isn’t Shaq unless he’s 300 pounds and 7 feet tall.

The Roosevelt Island Tramway was resilient in the face of Sandy almost exclusively because of its physical characteristics just as subways and tunnels were powerless exclusively due to their physical characteristics.

Again, this isn’t an indictment of subways or a call to replace the MTA exclusively with cable propelled transit technologies. That would be insane.

Instead it’s to point out that we have a transit technology here that is resistant to disaster. Taken to its logical next step, could we not imagine the surgical use of cable systems within a complementary, multi-modal transit network as an emergency back-up?

Much of the transit struggles in NYC centred on people’s inability to move from mainland areas to Manhattan and vice versa. As demonstrated by the Roosevelt Island Tramway, cable transit systems can solve that problem with relative ease.

Isn’t that worth contemplating a bit?



The Punisher Attacks The Roosevelt Tram

In our never-ending quest to document how the world of Hollywood fiction views cable cars and all mass transit as a mortal threat to your safety, we give you this:

Need we really say more about this?



Roosevelt Island Tram – From a Tourist Perspective

Tram travelling eastbound from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Image by Nicholas Chu, CUP Projects.

So this weekend, I made a trip down to New York City to take in some of the sights and sounds of the Big Apple. Being a natural transit nerd, I decided to make a side trip to Roosevelt Island (aka the Little Apple) to ride the Roosevelt Island Tram (RIT). Much to the chagrin of the accompanying girlfriend, but much to my delight, I was excited at the chance to finally ride the newly modernized RIT – arguably the world’s first commuter CPT line.

The system was originally constructed in 1976 to temporarily connect island residents to Manhattan. But even when the island was finally linked to the city’s subway in 1989, the RIT’s efficiency, coupled with its distinctiveness made it an inseparable icon of Roosevelt Island (more detailed history can be read here).

In terms of my experience riding the RIT as a tourist, the system was everything I expected – a quick transit connector service to and from Manhattan which offered scenic views of the city’s skyline. Unlike the typical screeching and squealing of a subway train, the RIT soared across the East River with poise, grace and stability. With the “dual-haul” or funifor configuration, service is frequent as the large spacious cabins arrive and depart no more than 5-7 minutes apart.

The tram is easily accessed from two different subway lines. For me, I boarded a train on the “N” subway line and got off at Lexington Avenue / 59th Street station. From there it was a short 2 minute walk over to the tram station at E 60th Street and 2nd Avenue. The Manhattan tram station was inconspicuously and neatly tucked into a street corner, almost entirely hidden from view by trees from the adjacent park. This is a great example of how cable transit infrastructure can be simply weaved into the urban fabric without causing any disruptions to sightlines and privacy.

Tram station on the Manhattan side. Image by Nicholas Chu, CUP Projects.

Since I rode the system on a Saturday afternoon, I’d say that about half the riders on the RIT were tourists. Given the breathtaking panoramic views offered, the dozens or so visitors armed with their DSLRs quickly snapped away at every possible moment (me included). Throughout the ride, the constant camera clicks and ticks were met with many “rolled eyes” and sighs from locals.

In typical tourist fashion, visitors struggle at the faregate, causing a slightly irritating backlog for regular commuters. Image by Nicholas Chu, CUP Projects.

Once we arrived on Roosevelt Island, we took a stroll around the vicinity but didn’t venture too far as we had other plans for the day. Similar to the Manhattan Tram station, the Tram station on Roosevelt Island was highly utilitarian and functional in design, with absolutely no frills about it. However, there were plans in the past to renew the stations (no word on the current status now).

On our way back to Manhattan for more shopping and sightseeing. Image by Nicholas Chu, CUP Projects.

While the island isn’t the most renowned tourist attraction in the city, the island itself does provide beautiful views of the city and lots of greenspace – perfect for a short weekend jaunt. So the story is: if you’re a tourist in New York and you want to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the city, the RIT makes for a fun and exciting excursion.

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