Roosevelt Island is somewhat of an enigma to most New Yorkers. Ask just about anybody and the response you will get is somewhat quizzical. They generally know the location, unless of course, they confuse it with one of the other islands that dot the East River, and that one arrives at the island via the bright red tram that strings across the river from an elevated platform at 59th Street and Second Avenue. But to those who live on this small island enclave, home is bliss and they would prefer to keep their secret to themselves.
Roosevelt Island is only two blocks wide but extends almost two miles long (from 46th Street to 85th Street on the East Side). There is a waterfront promenade, shared by walkers and bikers alike, that encircles the entire island. There are very few cars, no need for the locals to drive, except maybe to the Gristedes mega-supermarket on the north end of the island. There is a red bus, free to all, that continuously loops from one end of the island to the other.
Aside from the glorious promenade, the island has an inordinate number of parks, ball fields, t playgrounds, and open areas to just sit and relax. There is even a large community garden offering individual plots to amateur horticulturists. Tranquility is always just a moment away. And of course, you just can’t stop watching the barges that effortlessly pass by the island throughout the day.
There is a deep sense of community among the 12,000 or more residents of the island. The residential component, excluding the Cornell Tech component, consists of four areas, each on the north side of the Queensboro Bridge. Upon exiting the tram, one spills out onto Main Street (almost like arriving at Disney World) and is presented with nine buildings that align both sides of the street. These modern structures, the first of which opened in 2003, are architecturally pleasing and surrounded by green space and beautiful landscaping. The older housing structures, further south, are far more utilitarian.
Access to the island has never been better. Yes, for those who don’t know, you can even drive here if you must via the Roosevelt Island Bridge from 36th Avenue in Queens. The island is also accessible by subway, bus and ferry service.
If there is one drawback, it is the limited selection of stores and restaurants. While the island provides residents with the essentials, the lack of a truly sustainable retail presence has been a downer.