Much like wide swaths of New York City outside of Manhattan south of 96th Street, Roosevelt Island has long been fetishized as a strange “other” amidst the urban life of New York City. Cut off from both Manhattan and Queens by water, the largely residential island with a few hospitals sits amidst the East River. The 59th St. Bridge passes over it, and only the F train, the Q0102 and a tram — how neat! — service the island. Its residents love it for its access and idyllic qualities amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.
With the announcement earlier this week, though, of a brand new applied sciences campus run by Cornell University on the souther end of the two-mile landmass, life could change on Roosevelt Island. The school will start to open in 2017, and city officials expect it to be fully built out by 2027. The plans call for housing for 2500 students and another 280 faculty members, and the Economic Development Corp. says the campus alone will create 8000 new jobs. For an island with 12,000 residents, those totals represent a large influx of people.
Already, transportation advocates are casting a wary eye on the project. In a lengthy press release on the campus, the word “transportation” appears just once, and it’s unclear at this stage how Cornell will improve accessibility to the southern part of the island. It’s a manageable half-mile walk from the F train, but that walk is a relatively long one compared with how close, say, Columbia, NYU and Fordham are to their nearest train stops.
In a post yesterday, Cap’n Transit wondered how Roosevelt Island would remain relatively car-free. The infrastructure on the island can’t really support a huge influx of cars as it is even as the current hospital areas near where the campus will go up are relatively car-heavy. “Let’s hope,” the Cap’n writes, “that the Cornell and Technion designers have more vision than they showed in that lame fly-through, and that they build something urban and scholarly, with really narrow streets, like in Paris’s Latin Quarter. Let’s hope that they don’t think they’re too good to take the train to work, or at least to park at the Motorgate and take the bus. But if they do, let’s hope that Bloomberg, Steel and the RIOC will make them do the right thing.”
One potential “right thing” could involve exploring a new subway stop for the island. The 53rd St. tunnel passes directly underneath what will be the southern end of the Cornell campus. There’s no station right now, and I have no idea if one is even technically or economically feasible. But it would serve to anchor the campus and would nearly eliminate the need to drive to Cornell-on-Roosevelt. Currently, while the F train itself at Roosevelt Island is very crowded, the station is only the 180th most popular. That figure is a bit deceptive though as the 37.6 percent increase in ridership from 2009 to 2010 was the second highest in the city. Over 2.5 million riders a year use the station, and that number will jump considerably with the campus.
It is, at least, an idea. With the Cornell campus, the city could be sending upwards of 10,000 people a day to Roosevelt Island, and the transportation infrastructure improvements must be a part of the conversation before the project moves too far along. Will transit play the proper role or will it, as Stephen Smith worries, turn into yet another academic Corbusian nightmare in New York City?