Fall 2017: Elevator Going Up

Written by Briana Warsing.

The Tram will get glass elevators in Fall, 2017.

According to a Community Board 8 meeting, the Tram Station modernization project will start this fall. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) hired engineering firm GC Eng & Associates to modernize the existing Tram station on the Manhattan side and they presented their plans for the two new elevators at a meeting last week.

This renovation project will also involve improvement of the lighting and security at the station, and allow for more commuters to access the station at a time.

The New Elevators

The team’s goals for the two new glass elevators are increased user capacity, ADA compliant elevators, enhanced destination visibility, greater reliability and maintainability, increased lighting and security, and improved circulation. (So hopefully that urine smell will be gone forever.)

According to GC Eng & Associates’ Shigehiro Shishido, the glass doesn’t only look good, but it’s a safety measure. Shishido said, “This Second Avenue Tram station is a rather dark area. We can give a little lightbox to improve the safety, and it’s a small enough park.”

The waiting area will be 15 feet wider, and four trees from Tramway Plaza park will be cut down to make room for it. That is for ease getting on and off the elevator, as well as safety. Shishedo explained, “In the existing elevator, it’s very difficult to get in, especially with a wheelchair, getting off the Tram, [it’s] too narrow.”

Of the situation at ground level, Shishedo said, “The elevator below [is] very dark. It’s almost intimidating just to wait for this elevator.”

Upstairs there will be more space which is intended to ease the bottleneck [that is caused by] waiting for the elevator. The platform level will have a snow melting device. Additionally, “In case of a blackout we will still run at least one of [the elevators].”

The chair of Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee, A. Scott Falk, said that the elevators will work simultaneously. The capacity of each one is 2500 pounds or 7-8 people.

Shishedo assured Islanders he understands what needs to be different. He characterized the chair lift as, “difficult to use,’’ and said that “the elevator breaks down quite often and it is not ADA compliant.”

“Our goal is less maintenance,” he explained. “As you all know, the existing condition, how difficult it is to just press the button, close the door. The problem with this elevator is maintenance. RIOC has been doing the best they can do but it is difficult to maintain this type of elevator.”

Until the new elevators are complete, RIOC has put measures in place to prevent outages in the old elevators, including a new maintenance contract with Admiral Elevator and installed a new hydraulic piston a few months ago.


According to Shishido, one of the reasons we have so much trouble with the current elevator is its age, 40, and the fact that, unlike most 40-year-olds, it was never built to last.

Pre-Tram, Roosevelt Island was accessed by a trolley line that crossed over the Queensboro Bridge. Trolleys traveling to and from Queens would stop in the middle of the bridge to meet an elevator that would take passengers down to the Island. Trolley service ended in 1957, after achieving the status of being the longest-running trolley line in the City, kept in operation because it was the only way to get to the Island from the City. The Roosevelt Island Bridge was completed in 1955.

In the early 1970s, under the direction of urban planner and visionary Edward J. Logue, the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) created a model for a high-density, mixed-income urban community for the development of Roosevelt Island, necessitating a more efficient mode of transportation. In 1971, with the trolley tracks beyond repair, and the 63rd Street subway far from completion, the UDC hired Lev Zetlin Associates (LZA) to identify and design the future connection to the Island. Award-winning structural engineer James O’Kon led the LZA team through a feasibility and design study, examining three alternate modes of transit including a ferry, elevator from the bridge, and an air tram. The Tram was selected. Its projected service life was 17 years.

The Tramway was meant as a temporary solution to the then lack of subway service to the Island. But when the subway finally connected to Roosevelt Island in 1989, the Tram was too popular to discontinue.

Islanders Reactions

Roosevelt Island Residents Association Vice President Sherie Helstien was the first of many attendees to say, “I wish you could start sooner. That would be very nice.” Otherwise, Roosevelt Island Disabled Association’s Jim Bates clarified that, although the elevators are designed as ADA compliant, with the doors opening to three foot six inches, he will still have to back out. Falk said, “The capacity will be greater than what we have now. Each car is larger than what we have now.”

Helen Chirivas complimented the firm on the design and commented that, “The idea is to make it integral to the existing structure using today’s materials.”

The bulk of questions came from a member of the Resident Association’s Island Services Committee, Simina Cana, who had collected questions from members of the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network. They have long complained about how difficult outages are for those with infants and strollers and how it is difficult to impossible to fit double strollers in the elevator because the elevator is too small. The new elevators won’t come quickly enough for the Parents Network and many other Islanders.

Tags: construction Tram Briana Warsing

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