Broken Elevator at Roosevelt Island Tram Station Leaves Locals in the Lurch

By Lindsay Armstrong on January 10, 2014 9:10am 

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 Roosevelt Island Tram Station Gets $1 Million for New Elevator
Roosevelt Island Tram Elevator
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ROOSEVELT ISLAND — Roosevelt Island commuters are fed up with getting stuck.

The elevator and wheelchair lift at the Roosevelt Island Tram’s Manhattan-bound station has been breaking down more and more often, residents and local leaders said, making it difficult for parents with strollers and those with limited mobility to trek into Manhattan.

“Usually, when you really need the elevator, it’s broken,” said Ming Tan, a Roosevelt Island resident and mother of two small children. “It’s happened to me before, and luckily a good Samaritan will help me carry the stroller up.”

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the state agency that runs public services on the island, has approved $1 million in its 2014-15 budget to build a new, wheelchair-accessible elevator at the tram’s station on Roosevelt Island.

But with the timeframe for the new elevator's construction unclear, residents never know whether they will get a lift or be forced to take the stairs to the second-story tram.

“Recently there have been more complaints,” said Ellen Polivy, president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association. “It’s cold out. People want to get on the elevator and it’s broken, or sometimes both of them are broken at the same time.”

The tram underwent a complete modernization in 2010 when all of its cables and cars were replaced. Some residents said there was talk of renovating the elevator at that time, but the project never materialized.

Problems with the elevator go back to at least September 2013, when RIOC President Charlene Indelicato addressed the issue in a message to the community. 

“A few weeks ago, we received complaints that the elevator had been out of service at the Manhattan Tram Station [on Roosevelt Island]. We’re pleased to report that maintenance has been performed and the elevator has been up and running without an issue since then,” she said in September.

More problems have resurfaced over the last several weeks, prompting advocates for the island’s disabled community and representatives of parenting groups to write to RIOC asking for a more permanent solution.

During a visit to the station Wednesday afternoon, the elevator wasn’t working while a crew of mechanics attempted to fix it. The wheelchair lift was also closed, with a sign saying that it was out of service.

Indelicato said in an email that the extreme temperatures are partly to blame for the recent string of breakdowns. She also noted that mechanics are waiting on a part to repair the wheelchair lift. 

“We understand that this has been difficult for many of our residents, and again we are hoping to have the immediate problem resolved ASAP,” she said.

Tan said that even if the wheelchair lift is functioning when the elevator is out of order, it doesn’t necessarily help.

“For that one, you have to get someone to help you, like a staff member to open it up,” she said. “And they aren’t always there.”

For those unwilling or unable to take the stairs, there is the Q102 bus that runs from the island to Long Island City and Astoria. The F train also makes one stop on the island and has an elevator at the station. However, the train is frequently down on weekends due to ongoing construction on the line, leaving the tram as the only option for those traveling to and from Manhattan.

Jim Bates, the head of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, said that transportation challenges are nothing new for the community.

“Many disabled people just choose to take Access-a-Ride instead because they need to go somewhere that isn’t accessible,” Bates said, referring to the transportation service provided by the state. 

Indelicato said that RIOC is currently reviewing requests for proposals that the corporation will eventually open the project up to contractors for bidding.

Because the new elevator will need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it will be large enough to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers.

“A lot of people with strollers use the tram, and you often have to wait two or three times for a space in the elevator,” said Carmen Brizuela, who has worked as a nanny on the island for nine years.

“A new elevator would be great.”

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