Roosevelt Island Tramway

New York, New York | C.1976

Photo Credit: Pedro Almeida

As the first commuter aerial tramway in North America, the Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York City has certainly taken city transportation to new heights.

In the 20th century, Roosevelt Island was known as Welfare Island — named for the large number of hospitals located there. In 1909, a trolley line was built that crossed over the Queensboro Bridge, connecting the Island to Manhattan. The trolley operated for nearly 50 years before being dismantled. In the 1970s, the Island underwent redevelopment and the need for new public transportation arose.

Facing deteriorated trolley tracks and a connecting subway station at Roosevelt Island that had yet to be completed, city officials looked to the skies. In 1971, the Urban Development Corporation hired Lev Zetlin Associates (LZA) to design a transit connection to the island. LZA explored options including a ferry, an elevator from the Queensboro Bridge, and the aerial tramway. Within five years, the Tramway was built.

The Tramway officially opened in July 1976 and was intended to be a temporary transportation option while the subway connection to Roosevelt Island continued construction. The subway fell behind schedule and the tram became a permanent fixture. When the subway was completed in 1989, daily ridership on the tram decreased, but New Yorkers didn’t fully abandon the one-of-a-kind aerial ride.

Since its opening, more than 26 million passengers have used the Tramway, today it costs $2.75 each way, taking about 4 minute to ride between the Island and Manhattan teaching 250 feet above the East River at its highest point.

Written By: Kelly Murray

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