Temporary Too

by Don Friedman on January 20, 2017

Manhattan on the left, Roosevelt Island on the right:

The New York City Council recently approved a franchise agreement that, in theory, will keep the Roosevelt Island tram in operation until 2068. I hope to see the franchise extended again sometime after my 103rd birthday.

The tram is an elevated cable car that connects the island – in the middle of the east river – to midtown Manhattan. It was designed in the early 70s as a temporary solution to getting people from the new housing developments* on the island to…anywhere else.** Since the 63rd Street tunnel opened in 1989, there has been a subway stop on the island, so the tram is in theory superfluous. But it’s a grand trip, soaring over the river, and the sheer pleasure of it is why it’s gone from temporary to more or less permanent.

* The island had long been used as a dumping ground for services that were considered to be best hidden. It has housed, at various times, a smallpox hospital, an insane asylum, and a poorhouse, as well as more ordinary hospitals. It was for some time known as Welfare Island as a result. The 1970s redevelopment was a relatively benign form of urban renewal.

** The post-ferry, pre-tram, pre-subway, pre-bridge-to-Queens method of travel was actually pretty cool: you took a trolley to the middle of the Queensborough bridge and took an elevator down to the island. If we still had trolleys in NYC, I’d have voted for reinstating that trip.

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