NEW YORK — The Roosevelt Island Tramway recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.
The tramway, one of the more unique modes of transportation in the Big Apple, opened on May 17, 1976. Once planned as a temporary method of commuting, the tram quickly gained in popularity and is now a permanent fixture of the island and a symbol of the city itself.
More than 26 million people have used the tram, which runs along the north side of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, since it opened. Until the Mississippi Aerial River Transit opened in May 1984, the Roosevelt Island Tramway was the sole commuter aerial tramway in North America.
“When it first began, people treated it like an attraction,” The New York Times quoted Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, as saying. “Everyone wanted to ride.”
Roosevelt Island sits in the middle of the East River and is five feet above sea level at its highest point. Home to roughly 11,600 residents, the island was used principally for hospitals from 1921 until 1971; the subway did not reach the island until October 1989.
The island was renamed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1971. Four Freedoms Park, at the southern end of the island, is dedicated to a speech Roosevelt gave in January 1941.
The tram reaches 250 feet above the East River at its highest point. Trams travel upwards of 17.9 miles per hour along the 3,100-foot-line.
The tramway closed from March 1, 2010, until Nov. 30, 2010, to undergo a $25 million renovation project that upgraded and modernized the system. Today, the tram system’s two cars operate independently of one another and can each carry 110 people at a time.
Though trams are not operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, passengers must use the MTA MetroCard to board. Trams are operated by LPOA (Leitner-Poma of America) on behalf of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.