It's not lost on me that for the two transit challenges I’ve undertaken that are based on aesthetics—prettiest on Monday, and coolest today—I've chosen modes of transport that are not the subway. In fact, it's very much intentional.
Don’t get me wrong—I love the subway, I ride it constantly, I even wrote a book about it. But would I call it pretty? No. Cool? It’s great that it runs 24 hours and reaches nearly every corner of the city, but unless you’re the sort of person who trawls subway forums (I am; no judgment), “cool” isn’t exactly the right adjective.
Trams, though—trams are cool. Or at least, they're fun, which is more than can be said about the average subway commute. So for this challenge, which is meant to determine the coolest way of getting around our cities, I picked the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tramway—which is how I found myself waiting for the little red car with a bunch of rush-hour commuters on a recent evening.
Let’s get the issues with the tram out of the way first: It’s not the most useful mode of transport in the five boroughs, since it only connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Its ridership is a little over 6,000 daily, compared to the more than 65,000 commuters who use the nearest subway station on weekdays. (That could change now that Cornell Tech’s expansive campus has opened on the island.)
And if you have a fear of heights—which I do—it can be absolutely terrifying, especially on a windy day. On my ride, I kept my cool until a particularly strong gust made the tram rock from side-to-side on its approach to Manhattan—not cool.
But what it lacks in practicality, it makes up for in sheer awesomeness. The ride between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan takes just three minutes, and you can get on using your MetroCard (bonus!). I rode the tram during rush hour, but its peak crowds are still far less than even a not-so-busy day on the nearby 4 train.
After boarding the little bright red car, I was able to snag a spot near a window, and took in views of Queens and Roosevelt Island to the north, and Midtown’s skyscrapers to the south. The sun was shining, nobody was shoved into anybody else’s armpit, and it was one of the more pleasant commuting experiences I’ve had in recent months.
And that’s why I love it so much: most aerial trams are seen as tourist destinations, used for recreational purposes and little else. But here in New York, this is just another way of getting around—and that’s pretty cool.