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Field Trip: Roosevelt Island Tramway

The Roosevelt Island Tramway is not just for tourists. But this spring it will be closed for maintenence - so take a field trip before it's too late.

When was the last time you took the Roosevelt Island Tramway? If you’ve been putting it off, don’t dally! Because come March the tram is set to close for repairs and you’ll have to rely on the F train to fulfill your daytripping desires. Which is less fun that cabling over the East River, I promise. Plus, you have until the end of January to see Suzanne Vlamin’s photography exhibit documenting the Island’s singular urban history at the Octagon Gallery Gallery.

This week Urban Omnibus celebrates its first birthday, and the first feature of our second year online explores the Roosevelt Island Tramway as a case study of a poorly understood and cost-effective mass transit option that has huge potential to get us off the road and into the skies. Take the tram while you still can, but once you’re on the island, remember there’s more to check out than just the wicked cool ruins of the Renwick Smallpox hospital -- we learned the hard way not to try to sneak in -- on the southern tip of the island. Other buildings of historical significance include the Strecker Laboratory (1892), Josep Lluis Sert’s Eastwood and Westview highrises (1976) and the lighthouse (1873) on the northern tip (close to a major test site for tidal hydropower turbines). But this neighborhood of 12,000 is notable for its urban design as well as its architecture: the Urban Development Corporation’s 1969 masterplan was innovative in a number of ways, including the prohibition of cars on much of the island. And as the city continues to try to lessen our dependence on cars and roads, the island provides one mass transit option might be hiding in plain sight: the cable-propelled aerial gondola. Watch the video and check out the view: