Bargain Thrill in New York City

When Your Dream of Flying Comes True: The Roosevelt Island Tram

David Stone
The Tram Landing on 2nd Avenue
The Tram Landing on 2nd Avenue
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Have you ever dreamed of flying, gliding above the clatter and clutter of the streets? You can't get any closer than the Roosevelt Island Tram.

Plunk down $2.75 for the most eye popping views as you gently fly over streets and between buildings in New York City.

On the Roosevelt Island Tram, you sail, quiet as a whisper, between skyscrapers, and across the East River above the Queensboro Bridge. Historic buildings spread out in clear view on every side.

At night, the spray of lights across four boroughs is close to make-believe.

Details

You can buy a single round trip pass at the terminals in Manhattan (at 2nd Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets) and on Roosevelt Island. Because the Tram's been integrated into the New York City Transit System, you can even take advantage of free transfers to and from any of the nearby subways and buses with a MetroCard.

The aerial tram runs every day all year, shutting down only for extreme winds and thunderstorms and a few hours of regular rest after midnight.

The tramway runs two cabins between a home base on historic Roosevelt Island and another surrounded by hectic city traffic at its Manhattan entrance at Second Avenue in the park between 59th and 60th Streets.

Cheap Thrills on the Tram

The Tram is one of the most spectacular and least expensive of all the great, unique experiences in the city. 

The red cabins sweep, silent except for the chatter of other passengers, along the Queensboro Bridge. Cars, bicyclists and pedestrians hustle in both directions far below. Soon, you're flying silently over open water.

In service since 1976, the Roosevelt Island Tram has huge windows and advanced safety features. 

It's now more than ever a tourist attraction, even though local residents rely on it for timely, reliable commuter service.

In the air, you ride silently between apartment towers, looking up and down Manhattan's East Side Avenues, and then, you rise over the East River. Four boroughs and stretches of Long Island roll out to the horizon.

All the great buildings come into view, the Empire State, the Chrysler, Citibank, and the historic United Nations Headquarters stands tall at the water's edge. 

History and the Roosevelt Island Tram

When the City decided, during John Lindsay’s Administration, to develop Roosevelt Island for residential use, the intent was to make it an experimental community, highly integrated among income levels and pointing toward ideals compatible with a "city of tomorrow."

First, though, you had to get people to the island. A subway station was two decades away. A lift bridge connects with Queens, but not all New Yorkers own cars. Those who did had nowhere to park them.

And besides, the city of tomorrow wouldn't contribute more than necessary to New York's chronic pollution, would it?

Of course not.

The fast and easy solution was an aerial tram unlike anything previously built here. Commuter trams were unheard of in the United States. Swiss engineering had to be brought in to compensate for missing expertise.

The Tram opened in 1976, running on pulleys, like the mechanisms of a clothesline, in a loop from Second Avenue to the primary mechanical and machine room on Roosevelt Island.

Owned and operated by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, a state agency charged with developing the community, the Tram initially required unique tokens with fares restricted by an agreement with the MTA, which runs the subway, the bridges and tunnels in the five boroughs.

These days, while not part of the MTA, it operates within its system, accepting MTA fare cards only, charging the same cheap price as a subway ride, and honoring free transfers.

How-To for Visitors

Hours of Operation. Sunday thru Thursday 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday 6:00 a.m to 3:30 a.m.

Our advice is that you take the Tram after dark, which comes early to New York from late fall until early spring. While the views are always breathtaking, the experience of riding out between the Manhattan towers and breaking free at the airy nexus between four boroughs is unlike any other in the world.

Our other advice is, although you can take a ride right straight back, take a little walk north and get to know Roosevelt Island. Two minutes away, just passed the subway, is a Starbucks and places to sit or stroll along the waterside.

Clustered nearby around a green is a pizza shop, a Japanese restaurant and a sports bar.

Roosevelt Island offers a four mile promenade with many interesting stops as you take in the unobstructed views of Manhattan residents enjoy every day.

At the north end, where the island meets Hell Gate, is historic Lighthouse Park, a place to play and picnic or just look out the the powerful convergence of waters as the East River meets Long Island Sound.

The Tram Every Day

Many of us take advantage of it for a quick hop over the the Upper East Side, for shopping, enjoying the many restaurants, or continuing on to Central Park, Midtown, Columbus Circle and Park Avenue.

Hundreds use it for an easy commute to work daily. In New York, we' have extensive mass transit, but staying above ground, floating above the crowds is magic.

What a way to start or end the day!

More than anything else for Roosevelt Islanders, the Tram is our second car, maybe first or only. We gossip about it. We meet friends in midair. We carry whatever we need to carry–groceries, backpacks, luggage and mobile devices. Come to New York and join us as our community swings away from the crowds and leaves us on our discreet and suddenly quiet sliver of an island in the middle of the river.

The silence captures you.

Living in New York City, we're used to noise. Lots of it. And commotion. The metropolis can seem relentless.Then, with a gentle forward rock, you lift over Second Avenue and begin your rise above it all. For four minutes, you've escaped. The air's a peaceful place.

You fly, almost.

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