(New York -- Jim O’Grady, WNYC) Hundreds of Roosevelt Island residents showed up this morning to do what they hadn’t been able to do for the past nine months: ride a tram above New York's East River into Manhattan. The tram had been shut down for three months longer than planned to undergo a $25 million renovation. All but the base of its three towers were replaced and sleek red gondolas with wraparound windows were put into service.
The tram now runs on parallel sets of cables that are powered separately, allowing its two gondolas to run independently of each other. Previously, the gondolas used a system that functioned as if they were on a clothesline so when one malfunctioned, the second stopped moving, too. And when one gondola was at the Manhattan station, the other had to be at Roosevelt Island, a mostly residential island in between Manhattan and Queens, NY.
Under the new system, both gondolas can be sent from one side or the other to handle rush hour. And a gondola can now be taken out of service at night if demand is light. Crucially, the tram can keep running with one gondola if the other needs to be grounded for maintenance.
The gondolas can now carry almost 200 people—up from 125—and travel on cables that are wider than before. That’s to help stabilize them as they glide 230 feet above the often windy East River.
Roosevelt Island resident Cynthia Baird showed up to check out the new tram but not to ride it. She said she and several of her neighbors had decided to wait before boarding the tram, though it’s much quicker than taking the subway's F train or Q102 bus. When asked why, she said: “In case it falls. I don’t want to be in it!”
Baird figures she’ll wait a day or two to let the kinks be worked out before returning to the tram and, along with many of the island’s 14,000 residents, her regularly scheduled commute.