At 9:35 a.m. Friday, February 13, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) Advisories Alert System notified subscribers that both elevators at the Manhattan Tram Station were “temporarily” out of service. Soon after, the RIPN was buzzing with comments ranging from angry to discouraged.
The problem is not limited to the elevators at the Manhattan Tram station. The subway elevator at 63rd/Lex, which has been out since July 2014, was supposed to be back this month. The MTA has since amended its prediction to the end of May.
On the RIPN network, one parent advised, “Do not ride the Tram if you do not want to carry your stroller.” Another warned, “Also, no gate operator on the Roosevelt Island side… on the coldest day of the year.”
Later that morning, RIPN Coordinator Eva Bosbach sent an email to RIOC Director of Operations Cy Opperman and Public Safety Director Jack McManus alerting them that families had been having difficulties boarding the Tram on the Island side because no one was opening the gate for stroller access. Then, in Manhattan, there was no one helping on the stairway. Bosbach requested help from Public Safety, and reminded RIOC of its promise to provide Red Bus service to Manhattan if both elevators were ever out simultaneously.
Later in the day, RIOC responded by providing a shuttle bus for the evening commute between 4:00 and 8:00. Buses picked up outside PS 217 and, in Manhattan, outside Crunch gym on Second Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets. But the service on Friday the 13th was limited to that four-hour period.
Saturday, February 14, brought a new round of complaints. The RIPN member who called the situation “a nightmare” wrote, “The two [Manhattan Station] elevators were out of service. I attempted carrying my kid and stroller, over 70 pounds, [down the stairs] by myself. I got scared and asked RIOC staff for help but they wouldn’t. Finally, I had to carry the heavy stroller down using the stairs.”
Of her experience riding the Tram on February 14, Josie Chamla said, “They were turning a man in a wheelchair away when I caught the Tram this afternoon, and I think the Tram operator said that there was no Red Bus shuttle until Tuesday.” Upon arrival on the Manhattan side, she observed “an elderly lady with a heavy limp who did not know that the elevators were not running.” Chamla adds,“This situation is completely unacceptable for the elderly and disabled, and very inconvenient for parents with young children in strollers who are extremely limited in transport options with the 63rd St subway station elevators also out.”
By Monday (February 16), RIOC sent out another advisory, this time alerting subscribers that Red Bus service would be provided to those with limited mobility, but that it wouldn’t start until the following day. The advisory informed passengers that the shuttle would leave Manhattan every 30 minutes between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., and depart from the Island Tram Station every 30 minutes from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The advisory also stated there would be no weekend service or holiday service. Bosbach sent the group an email stating, “If you had difficulty because the shuttle was not provided during the weekend and today, please email RIOC and let them know.”
Even the weekday service wasn’t seamless. “Two Public Safety officers told me to wait at the regular Tram Red Bus stop to go to Manhattan,” wrote one RIPN member. “The bus to Manhattan did come, but it just U-turned in front of 405 [Main Street] and went back to Manhattan without picking us up. The Tram operator says no one has told him where this bus will stop on the Island side.”
Susana Gardete Hartmann has continued to take the Tram. “I have been commuting every day to the Upper East Side with my children sitting in a double stroller,” she said. “Since the elevators are out of service, the situation has been really bad. Luckily, I have my husband to carry the stroller up and down. This is a very stressful and crazy situation, since now we have to coordinate our work schedules to take the Tram at the same time (morning and afternoon).”
Hartmann says that she’s witnessed a lot of people who have it tougher than she does. “Other mothers have to commute by themselves with two or three children every day, and they are carrying one of them in the stroller down the stairs. The saddest part is that no one is willing to help them because people have to rush to work or are too busy with their lives.” Hartmann doesn’t take the bus, saying that it “takes forever to reach the destination.”
Bosbach affirms, “Our goal for the Tram is at least one operating elevator on the Manhattan side at all times when the Tram is running.” This is not a new problem. By Bosbach’s count, it’s the third winter in a row that this has been a problem. The website DNA.info published a story on this problem last January (2014). Senator Jose Serrano wrote a letter to RIOC then, asking for immediate elevator replacement. The WIRE published two reports: one on MainStreetWIRE.com in January and another in August, when the news broke that the subway elevator would be down.
“Roosevelt Island is such a lovely place for families, seniors, and the disabled, because getting around is so easy and all places are accessible,” says Bosbach. [But] “it is almost impossible to get off Roosevelt Island [when you are wheelchair- or stroller-dependent] without help like a car or an elevator.” (Letter, page 2.)
Replacement of the elevators was part of RIOC’s 2014-15 budget. Unfortunately, there were no responses to the Request for Proposals by the July 21 due date. At a RIOC Operations Advisory Committee meeting on February 9, RIOC President Charlene Indelicato said that the Tram elevator replacement project will not be complete for at least a year – and that’s assuming that everything goes smoothly. She explained that a larger footprint is now required at the Manhattan Tram Plaza and, to get the necessary space, approvals from various City agencies will be needed.
Of possible solutions, Bosbach says, “We would love to have a footbridge to Manhattan, pedestrian access to the Queensboro bridge, or a ramp on the Manhattan side of the Tram.” She believes the ramp would be worth doing “even if it takes years of negotiations with the City to get all requisite permits to use the parkland [in the Plaza area], as such ramps have to follow strict requirements and cannot be too steep.”
One RIPN parent believes that a footbridge to Manhattan would be the perfect solution. She says RIOC will still make money on the Tram, “Tourists will always want to take the Tram, as will a large portion of the current riders. A bridge, however, would provide an option, and a welcome one, to many families with kids, to bikers, and to those who just want some exercise. The footbridge from Manhattan to Randall’s Island is a lovely example. I ran it every morning when we lived on the Upper East Side.”
She concludes, “This is possible!”