Home Manhattan Idea: The Queens-Midtown Tramway

Idea: The Queens-Midtown Tramway

by Benjamin Kabak

The Roosevelt Island Tram, extended. (Via Next New York)

As part of its Next New York series, the Forum for Urban Design has been posting a variety of project proposals on a new website. For the dreamers among us, these visuals are a rabbit hole of urban delight. Head down the path to find a world in which the Triboro RX exists or another with a one-seat ride to La Guardia Airport. Many of the transit plans are ideas I’ve explored in depth in the past, but here’s a new one: a Midtown-Queens Tramway.

Put forward by Claire Weisz, Mark Yoes and Jacob Dugopolski from WXY Architecture + Urban Design, the idea is a simple one: Extend the Roosevelt Island tram west to Central Park and east to Queens Plaza. The designers call this a “new uninterrupted connections across the river, linking major destinations across the five boroughs.” Though it’s tough to see how this tramway improves upon the preexisting two-stop subway connection via the R train between Queens Plaza and Central Park, it’s certainly intriguing to see a direct tram connection between Roosevelt Island and Queens.

The overall view for the sky and water links from the WXY architects goes like this:

First, we could extend the Roosevelt Island tram in both directions, creating a new link from Queens Plaza to Central Park. The tram could be a high-visibility attraction, steering tourists from Central Park to the museums and galleries of Long Island City. And it would serve commuters as an above-grade transit option with a fantastic view that links Queens Plaza with Midtown Manhattan or the new Roosevelt Island campus and innovation hub.

The East River Ferry could also be expanded to bridge neighborhoods directly across the river from one another. Paired with new bikeways and express bus routes along the waterfront, the ferry would offer a quicker transportation alternative to existing multi-stop bus and subway routes. The ferry should create new access points at Roosevelt Island; Pier 35, Houston Street, and Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan; and Jay Street and the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn.

Finally, we could invest in new bridges to unite our waterfront greenways. We could link Governors Island to Red Hook, Greenpoint and Long Island City along Manhattan Avenue, Harlem and Yankee Stadium along W. 153rd Street, Hunts Point and Soundview along Lafayette Avenue, and Gowanus and Red Hook along Centre Street.

Unless Weisz and her co-designers are using high speed ferries on a rather narrow waterway, the boats won’t offer up “quicker transportation” than existing subway routes, but these boats, as the success of the East River ferries has shown, can connect waterfront neighborhoods that may not have easy subway or bus access.

This idea, though, is all about the tram. It’s dramatic with great views and can offer up a different transit mode. I don’t know how much such a proposal would cost, and I’m not going to say it’s definitely something to consider. But it’s something to dream about as we focus on New York’s future. As Daniel McPhee, an executive with the Forum for Urban Design, said to the Daily News, ‚ÄúSome of the more speculative proposals sort of ignites the dialogue about how to make our city more sustained, more competitive and more livable.”

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Lady Feliz October 11, 2013 - 3:12 pm

Or they can take the subway from QB Plaza to Midtown via Roosevelt Island.

al October 11, 2013 - 4:16 pm

The 63rd St line doesn’t transfer at Queensboro Plaza with Q,N,7,E,M, and R trains. This creates a way for commuters to travel between Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Island, and offers a way to expand cross East River capacity. The need will be apparent when Cornell/Technion opens.

Neil October 11, 2013 - 7:11 pm

The subway is the far less scenic way, and for New Yorkers, not tourists.

ajedrez October 11, 2013 - 3:48 pm

From a commuter perspective, that’s the obvious answer. But from a tourist perspective, I’m sure many would appreciate the nice view of the city.

Hoosac October 11, 2013 - 4:04 pm

If we’re extending the tram west to Central Park, wouldn’t we need tram support towers in the streets leading to the park? Somehow, I don’t think that would fly. But nice to see someone thinking outside the box.

marv October 11, 2013 - 5:25 pm

We can’t afford to build subways,

forget slow trams, SBS or even light rail/trams that still have street crossing every block



*It can move masses of people in disney and vegas – why not NY
*It gives views of our beautiful city and can double as a tourist attraction
*It has a narrow foot print
*It is quiet
*It is far far cheaper than a subway (building a couple would be cheaper than a subway and would directly service more routes)
*It serves as a visual landmark so that users know where they are going
*It can be decorated (flower baskets anyone?)
*It is proven technology
*It does not have the stigma of an elevated line

Imagine ones running from eastern queens across Manhattan and into
Imagine one running from Barkley Center to Downtown to Hoboken

Imagine one running from Manhattan to Staten Island

Imagine one running over the GWB and then straight down the east side

Imagine a Hudson River monorail serving the Intrepid, the passenger ship terminal etc. Have it come “in land” from 34th Street to 42nd Street to allow stops at Penn Station and the Bus terminal and the connecting subways.

Use POP to allow leaner less invasive stations.

Sell advertising on the structure to the extent that it does not get ugly.

Neil October 11, 2013 - 7:13 pm

Imagine the money, time, and other disruption of the daily lives of New Yorkers. We live on the subway. Start construction above it, or in replacing things in the tunnels, and the city is flung into chaos.

Bolwerk October 11, 2013 - 8:00 pm

This is a joke, right?

Chris C October 11, 2013 - 10:54 pm

LOL that is a great clip !

Alon Levy October 11, 2013 - 9:57 pm

As it happens, about 7 weeks back I looked at comparative costs of monorails and conventional els. There’s no difference.

Josh October 15, 2013 - 2:16 pm

CATS? Is that you?

majortom1981 October 16, 2013 - 10:38 am

Monorail is expensive. There is a reason why Disney has not expanded theirs. Its stated to be something in the area of $1 million a foot to build.

The rails made out of concrete are expensive and you need to put a pole every so often.

Matthew October 11, 2013 - 6:04 pm

I think I would much rather see the city invest in expanding its subway capacity, and service to the outer boroughs. While I don’t think the triboro proposal is a strong idea, I do think we need to develop a line which connects Downtown Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx together without going through lower Manhattan. Thus I think we should build a short extension to the G train to connect it to the 63rd street tunnel so it can be routed under the East River, and then also build a connection from the 63st tunnel north onto the new Second Ave line under construction. This would allow the G train to grow with phase 2 of the Second Ave Subway, and would create a new bypass around lower Manhattan for all the riders from the Bronx and Northern Manhattan who are heading to Queens and Downtown Brooklyn by routing them eastward before they get to Midtown, while also utilizing existing under-performing subway lines.

Boris October 11, 2013 - 10:49 pm

The old Myrtle Ave Elevated (an abandoned piece of which remains visible at the Myrtle Ave J/M/Z station) used to be that connection between Queens and downtown Brooklyn. Making that trip today needs two transfers (M to Myrtle, J out to Queens again, and then the A to Jay St).

The 63rd St connection to the Second Ave subway exists – there are stub tracks there for this purpose. The Q will be routed up Phase I in exactly this manner.

The G extension is intriguing, but TriboroX would do much the same thing, although perhaps in a more roundabout manner.

Bolwerk October 11, 2013 - 11:05 pm

Well, you can take the B54 bus too. Not a quick trip, but probably better than all those transfers.

Henry October 12, 2013 - 10:18 am

The 63rd St connections exist in the opposite direction – from the north to the west, and from the east to the hypothetical south.

IMO, the G should be extended north to Queens Plaza and then substitute the Astoria line – as it stands, the 60th St line is a bottleneck because both Astoria and QBL link to it, and the Astoria Line is virtually unextendable.

Andrew October 12, 2013 - 9:31 pm

Not sure what you mean by “substitute the Astoria line,” but if you’re suggesting replacing some Astoria service with the G, I don’t think that’s a good idea – N/Q trains right now are extremely crowded with people going to Manhattan, and they won’t be able to fit if you cut service to Manhattan to make way for the G.

Andrew October 12, 2013 - 9:29 pm

The old Myrtle Ave Elevated (an abandoned piece of which remains visible at the Myrtle Ave J/M/Z station) used to be that connection between Queens and downtown Brooklyn. Making that trip today needs two transfers (M to Myrtle, J out to Queens again, and then the A to Jay St).

M to Essex for the F is surely faster and more direct, is it not?

Michael October 11, 2013 - 6:37 pm

Trams are not built to operate beyond 2 stops and the systems are generally limited to 2 trams going back and forth.

A gondola system would be much more flexible and have higher capacity, likely at much less cost.

There are many places in NYC that Gondola’s could be built to replace bus lines and ferrys to provide faster/continuous service without traffic and very low construction costs.
-cross town lines at Canal, 14th, 34th, 42nd and 125th streets.
-Downtown brooklyn – Governers Island – Battery Park – Jersey city

D in Bushwick October 11, 2013 - 7:23 pm

Better yet would be a tram from the South Ferry Terminal to Governor’s Island and on to delightful but transit-challenged Red Hook.

Alon Levy October 11, 2013 - 9:59 pm


However, if anyone proposes light rail in the median of QB, using the Queensboro Bridge to get to Manhattan, this should be a high priority: the alignment is parallel to subway lines with capacity problems (QB, and to some extent the Astoria Line once the Q is diverted toward SAS), and QB is so wide that taking traffic lanes away and giving them to something other than cars is a net good.

Bolwerk October 11, 2013 - 11:09 pm

There is a private ROW under the 7 Train’s Queens Blvd. viaduct that used to be a streetcar ROW. I imagine it could be re-purposed for LRT, but I don’t know for sure.

Duke October 11, 2013 - 11:21 pm

Given the massive traffic jams that ensue when a lane of the Queensboro Bridge is blocked for some reason, and the fact that the streetcar you’re replacing those lanes with duplicates the route of two subway lines, I fail to see how a permanent blockage would qualify as “net good”. It’s bad for cars and irrelevant for transit.

Extending the tram would have the benefit of connecting Queens Plaza directly with Roosevelt Island, and also the benefit that flooding couldn’t knock it out of service. Now, yes, with the way the tram currently operates this isn’t quite possible, but here’s a simple workaround: rather than extending the existing service, build a second tram from Roosevelt Island to Queens Plaza. And then anyone looking to use the tram to go from Queens Plaza to Manhattan can just transfer.

(I’m also going to guess this might be cheaper than building a streetcar line over the bridge, but I could be wrong on that)

Bolwerk October 12, 2013 - 12:05 am

It only sort of duplicates between the bridge and 46th Street, and then it closes a service gap. It could also potentially serve a dense, underserved part of Manhattan. And that’s ignoring the fact that surface transit is about as different from grade-separated heavy rail as buses are.

In any case, in most cases removing lanes and keeping roads at scale improves traffic. Likewise, taking traffic off Queens Blvd. would mean less feeds the bridge. Not saying it’s worth the price, but what Alon suggests would be good for cars and for transit.

pete October 11, 2013 - 11:43 pm

Send these social parasites to the work camp for BS ideas like this.

Wilson October 14, 2013 - 12:11 pm

That Tramway looks like something Spider-man slung in his spare time.

Why not build a second stop on Roosevelt Island for the R train?


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