Despite its close proximity to both Manhattan and Queens, getting to and from Roosevelt Island has always been something of a challenge.
Before the trolley that once ran across the Queensboro Bridge starting in 1909, the only access was by boat. When that trolley stopped running in 1957, the little community was once again all but cut off from Manhattan, with only a newly-opened bridge connecting it to Queens. In the 1970s, the island began being developed for residential use (for years, it was known as “Welfare Island” for its hospitals and asylums), and the addition of a subway stop was planned. But as the population of the island continued to grow, construction of the subway station became mired in delays and it was decided that something needed to be done, and quickly.
Enter the aerial tramway: flying in from Manhattan at 250 feet above the East River, the tram began operation in 1976. Although it was really intended as a “temporary” solution until the subway connection could be completed, it still connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island today, even after the subway station finally opened in 1989. For a decade, it was the only commuter service aerial tramway in the country (a second was built in Portland, Oregon, in 2006).
The aging system was overhauled in 2010, and now runs new cars on a regular daily schedule.