Travel Tip: Take the Roosevelt Island Tramway

Roosvelt Island Tramway

Along with the day’s other 10,000-odd commuters and rubberneckers, why not fly through the air with the greatest of ease on New York City’s amazing Roosevelt Island Tramway? Completed in 1976, this aerial tramway (cableway to Europeans) spans the East River, connecting Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Each car has a capacity of 125 people and there are 115 trips per day across the 940-m (3,100-ft) distance, the tramway climbing to a maximum height of 76 m (250 ft) during the journey. The Manhattan entrance to the system is at Tram Plaza (60th Street and 2nd Avenue). The closest New York City subway station is the Lexington Avenue/59th Street complex.

The Tramway runs parallel to the Queensboro Bridge, which crosses Roosevelt Island. Until the 1950s, a trolley (the last in New York) ran to the centre of the Queensboro Bridge, where the cars stopped to let passengers descend to Roosevelt Island by lift. This service was discontinued after a bridge from Queens was built, but there was no direct link to Manhattan until the aerial tram arrived. It was intended to be a temporary measure until the island’s subway station was built, but when that was finally completed in 1989 the ‘Tram’ had become so popular it became a permanent fixture. It was grounded after malfunctioning twice, in 2005 and 2006, stranding passengers in mid-air. After refurbishment, the service was reinstated though (just in case) each car now carries blankets, food, water…and a toilet with privacy curtain.

Roosevelt Island had various names over the centuries – Minnahononck, Varckens Island, Manning’s Island, Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island – before its final renaming in anticipation of a Presidential monument to Franklin Delano Roosevelt that never got built. In the 19th century hospitals, asylums and prisons were located on the island, it is now subject to intensive residential redevelopment.

Best highlights of Roosvelt Island Tramway Journey

A quick tour of Roosevelt Island for a bargain 25-cent fare on the ‘Red Bus’ that meets each tram.
The extraordinary lighthouse on the north tip of Roosevelt island, built in 1872 – a great viewpoint overlooking the river, Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Triborough Bridge.
A night trip – the view of Manhattan, the East River and Queens is magnificent.
The mysterious castle-like Renwick Ruin at the south end of the island, named after architect James Renwick who designed this former smallpox hospital…and St Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.


Sex symbol Mae West once served time in the Welfare island Penitentiary (closed in 1935), for putting on a bawdy Broadway show  entitled…Sex.


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