It was originally created only as a temporary transportation solution, but today the Roosevelt Island Tramway has become one of the defining symbols of the Island and a top tourist attraction in New York City. Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the Tramway, and as a celebration of that milestone, Curbed is taking you back in time to catch glimpses of the tramway, when it all began in 1976 [PDF!], and its subsequent years of service.
The tram was built as a temporary mode of transport while residents on the Island waited for the construction of the F Train. The Island had recently experienced a renaissance of sorts — a place that was once known for its prisons and the mistreatment of the mentally ill as chronicled by investigative reporter Nellie Bly in the late 19th century, was in the 1970s and 1980s being transformed into a residential community.
That transformation was greatly aided by the Tram, which at the time was the country's first tram used for urban transportation. The F line subway stop didn't open until 1990, but by then the Tram had become a fixture not just for residents on the island but for tourists as well.
By the 2000s, the tram was serving two million passengers annually and had already doubled its operational expectancy of 17 years. But the years of prolonged service soon took a toll on the Tramway, and it was shuttered in March 2010 for an extensive, $25 million renovation.
Just six months later, the modernized tram service made its debut, extending its service for at least another 30 years. Almost every component of the tramway was replaced except for the three tower bases that support the cables that take the tram back and forth from the Island. That upgrade made the system more resistant to strong winds, and made the service more efficient with trams now able to operate on two separate lines along the stretch.
Last month it was announced that the Tram is set to undergo another another makeover — this time to modernize the tram station on the Manhattan side with the addition of two new glass elevators. Before it all began, Roosevelt Island was serviced by a trolley [PDF!] that dropped passengers off in the middle of the Queensboro Bridge, from where they could take an elevator to the Island. In fact the Roosevelt Island trolley was the last functioning trolley in the city.
"The tram brought everyone together, in close quarters," Judith Berdy, the president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, said in a press release. "It was a terrific way to socialize and build connections with neighbors, all of whom were newcomers and eager to meet people."
- All the Roosevelt Island Coverage [Curbed]