Roosevelt Island Tram – From a Tourist Perspective

Post by Gondola Project

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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  1. what i've heard from tourist passengers is the ride could (should) be slower.
  2. LOoks like fun i gotta ride it next time im in nyc.
  3. for a tourist, yes - especially because the ride lasts about 3 minutes and costs $2.25 per trip. for me, luckily i bought a 7 day metrocard pass. given the large amt of tourists and the dual haul configuration, i can't imagine why they don't just use one cabin for tourists and one for commuters during non-peak periods or the weekends. this setup may actually boost their ridership

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