How to Get to Roosevelt Island

By Meg Jernigan; Updated August 11, 2017

Visiting New York’s suburb in the city

How to Get to Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island has quite the history. It has passed through the hands of Native Americans, hog farmers and those who believed prisoners, the poor and the mentally ill would benefit from living on an island. Now, dazzling cityscapes greet visitors who arrive on the island by bus or car, and provides a view to those living in New York's notorious high-rise buildings. Make the most of your experience by taking the tramway, high above the East River, to Roosevelt Island.

Ride the MTA

The F train travels between Queens and Brooklyn, hooking westward midway through the trip to cross the East River into Manhattan, making a stop at the Roosevelt Island station. Download the MTA Subway Time app for real-time arrival information on many of the city’s routes. Subway fares must be paid with a MetroCard, available at subway station booths, vending machines and at neighborhood merchants.

The Q102 Queens Surface bus makes a handful of stops on Roosevelt Island. Catch the bus at the corner of Crescent and Bridge Plaza North in Manhattan. Get one of the MTA Bus Time apps for live updates on bus times. Pay your bus fare with a MetroCard or exact change.

The Red Bus, a free circulator bus that operates daily, including weekends, circles the island, making stops at the subway and tramway stations.

Take the tram

In a matter of minutes, an elevated tramway whisks passengers across the East River in a red, Swiss-made gondola. Catch the tram at the 59th Street and Second Avenue station. The tramway, the Red Bus and the Q102 debuted in 1976 to provide transit service until the subway stop opened in 1989.

The MTA MetroCard that you need for the tramway can be purchased from vending machines at the station. The tram operates every day of the week, from early morning until well after midnight, and extra service is added during rush hour.

Cruise by car

Whether you’re driving from Manhattan, Long Island or Brooklyn, you’ll need to take the 36th Avenue Bridge to the island. The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge crosses the island, but there is no access. Once you’ve crossed the 36th Avenue Bridge to Roosevelt Island, you can follow Main Street to the Motorgate Garage, which charges hourly fees. Other parking spots are extremely difficult to find.

Fun facts about Roosevelt Island

  • In 1955, Roosevelt Island was connected to Queens by the Welfare Island Bridge. Before that, vehicles and pedestrians rode an elevator down to the island from a point halfway across the Queensboro Bridge. The elevator was demolished in 1970.
  • In the 1600s, what is now Roosevelt Island was used for pig farming, but a house wasn’t built there until 1796. Blackwell House is now used as a community center. In 1828, prisoners were imported from a penitentiary in Manhattan to build a prison on the island. In 1841, the New York Insane Asylum opened, and shortly after, almshouses for the poor were built on the island, called Welfare Island at the time. A tower from the asylum remains as part of an apartment building. 
  • The island was renamed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1973, and redevelopment around that time brought the first residential housing.
  • Garbage collected on the island is spirited away through underground pneumatic tubes.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan