For anyone who has lived here for a while, Roosevelt Island now is filled with trouble. The Daily gets emails and texts about it every day. But yesterday, October 11th, 2023, it tumbled from troubling to shocking – and frightening. The neglect from RIOC and public officials is in residents’ faces.
by David Stone
From behind me, a woman’s voice repeated: “Look at that. Look at that.” I looked, and what I saw took my breath away.
Would the cables hold or would the packed cabin come crashing down?
Then, it got worse. After rocking out of control just after departing the Roosevelt Island dock for at least 20 seconds, the cabin continued, lifting up high over the East River, still rocking.
A passenger exiting the cabin that passed it coming across the tower looked at me in shock.
“Did you see that?” she asked.
I did, and now, you have.
With only one Public Safety Officer at the station, overwhelmed while struggling with platform overcrowding, and no managers anywhere, the feeling that Roosevelt Island had been abandoned was profound.
RIOC did not issue a single advisory or social media post about being engulfed with demand at both terminals of the Tram. Their alleged communications experts, Akeem Jamal ($150,000/yr.) and Bryant Danials ($130,000/yer.) were who knows where, busily not doing their jobs.
Roosevelt Island Now: Officially Abandoned
The first text landed at around 3:00 p.m.
“I’m Never taking the tram again. People are so rude…” she wrote after being shoved aside by rushing tourists while boarding on Second Avenue. And being pushed repeatedly by a man without the common sense to remove his backpack in a crowded cabin.
No PSD presence. Nothing from the Tram operator.
This is Roosevelt Island now, as many have discovered. RIOC discarded residents’ interests like extra baggage when it went for tourists’ fares, making the once beloved Tram unusable for those who really pay for it.
The Tram loses over $1 million every year, and RIOC makes Roosevelt Islanders cover the difference.
A second panicked call…
When I answered my phone, I could barely understand the familiar voice. It was six o’clock, and I was inches away from a glass of wine.
“You have to help,” she said between deep breaths. “You have to tell them.”
From the Second Avenue Tram Plaza, she described lines stretching down 59th Street to 3rd Avenue.
“Okay,” I said, “I’m coming. Right now.”
A short time later, I saw one cabin rocking out of control while leaving the station and took the video above.
The likeliest cause of that was overcrowding in the cabin, packing people in like cargo, whatever fits. Capacity limits are set for a reason, but when you ignore them, what’s the difference?
Adding to that risk is the effect of rocking. Every time the cabin swings downward, it ratchets up the stress on the supports. The opposite happens when it swings up. The fluctuations increase the dangers exponentially, yet the cabin, instead of returning to safety, lifted over a hundred people higher and across the river.
And it’s not the first time. It’s not even the first recording. In September, a video showed up online with a cabin rocking like this as it came into the station.
Memories are long, and ironically, I recalled Roosevelt Islander Frank Farance, then an activist, warning the installers about safety issues like this in 2010.
Behind his back, RIOC and POMA engineers nicknamed Frank “Pancake” for his description of how a cabin might slam into the platform. But persistent cabin overcrowding shows he might have been right.
And the know-it-alls were wrong.
The MTA Adds Juice
Because the MTA is nearly as dreadful as RIOC in communications, we later learned that the F Train Shuttle between 63rd Street and Roosevelt Island had been shut down.
But we only found out because a Roosevelt Island mom reported crowds stranded at the 63rd Sttree/Lex platform. There were no announcements and no MTA personnel anywhere in sight.
So, this Roosevelt Islander took matters into her own hands, racing along the platform, warning others that no shuttles were coming.
More desperate Roosevelt Islanders joined the lines at the Tram already packed with tourists.
Two things can’t be stressed enough.
First, all this was predictable. The Daily posted concerns about the lack of redundancy in the subway system before the Track Fixation Project started. That is, any fault – a jammed door, a sick passenger – took the whole shuttle system down without any alternative or rescue plan if needed.
In this instance, the MTA offered no reason for the shutdown. As it was precisely announced at the half-hour, suspicions are high that they ran out of personnel. But they will never admit that rush hour blunder if true.
Yet the second thing is of greater concern.
There’s no other way to put it: Roosevelt Island has been officially abandoned.
Although the MTA and especially RIOC have notorious track records for negligence, no one from Governor Kathy Hochul – who ultimately runs both operations – on down has spoken up for Roosevelt Islanders.
As tourist rudeness and overcrowding made Tram travel perilous and finally, for the most vulnerable, impossible, who spoke up? Who demanded that RIOC find solutions for a problem they caused with mindless promotions?
Who said a word publicly when a cabin was first recorded rocking out of control above the platform?
When the Tram broke down for 6 hours, exposing a scary single point of failure affecting both cabins, who insisted on an inspection?
You know the answer. Nobody. Not RIOC’s Albany handlers, not Krueger, not Seawright, not Menin, not Levine and not Adams.
It’s sorta nostalgic when you think back at how all of them promised to look out for us before votes were cast. But that was then, and this is now.
We need their help, but we’re not getting it.