F This!

Even at the height of the Thursday morning rush, Roosevelt Islanders have time to stop and talk about transportation. That’s

Even at the height of the Thursday morning rush, Roosevelt Islanders have time to stop and talk about transportation. That’s because they’re likely watching two or three or four F trains go by, packed to the doors with Manhattan-bound commuters.

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As newcomers flock to Roosevelt Island, transportation on and off the 147-acre landmass is becoming increasingly challenging. The temporary suspension for upgrades of the island’s iconic tram next spring will only exacerbate the situation.

"We’re at capacity," said Jonathan Kalkin, who’s on the board of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), which manages the island. "Sometimes you do have to wait–especially in the morning–for another train, depending on how gutsy you are, how much New York is in you to push through."

Roosevelt Island’s population has boomed, in large part due to Riverwalk, a nine-building condo complex that will bring (and has brought) thousands of newcomers to an island that had less than 10,000 residents at the dawn of the decade. There are now three ways to get to Manhattan from the island: by car, over the Queensboro bridge; by a five-minute tram ride; or by subway, via the F train.

"The train situation is pretty bad because it gets crowded," said Jose Cepeda, an accountant who has lived on Roosevelt Island for seven years. "There are times when we can’t get in, and two or three trains will pass."

"The bottom line is that nobody has done any planning for the future transportation needs on this island," said Matthew Katz, the president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association. "How anybody is going to get on and off this island is anybody’s guess."

The island’s only subway stop is seeing more and more traffic: 10 years ago, the average number of weekday riders at the Roosevelt Island F stop was 3,789. By the first six months of 2008, that number had jumped to 6,109. In fact, almost as many people rode the train between January and June of this year than in all of 1998: 950,000 riders versus 1.2 million, respectively. And since Roosevelt Island is also the last stop before Manhattan, subway cars arrive full of commuters from Queens.

Of course, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is seeing record ridership numbers system-wide.

For island residents, however, the situation will get worse when the tram upgrade starts. The project, which will allow the two tram cars to run on separate tracks rather than in tandem like a clothesline, is scheduled to begin April 1, 2009, and could last about six months, Mr. Kalkin said. During the weekday rush, the tram carries 125 passengers per trip and arrives at 59th Street and Second Avenue. It averaged 120,000 riders per month last year; that number is now more like 150,000 to 160,000 riders.

For those islanders without cars, after April 1, the only options to get off the island will be the Queens-bound Q102 bus (which departs every 15 to 30 minutes) or the F train.

"It’s going to hit the fan one of these days," said Mr. Katz. "And it’s going to be a major problem because developers are not going to be able to sell their apartments, or rent their apartments, when people realize that there’s no way on or off the island."

So far, newcomers have not been deterred. Heidi Blahnick, who moved to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan three months ago, loves the tram. And the subway? "It’s no more [crowded] than the 4/5/6, which is what I used to take," she said. "It’s about the same."

David Kramer, a principal at Hudson Companies, a developer of Riverwalk, pointed out that the transit situation on Roosevelt Island is not that different from Williamsburg: Residents there rely heavily on the L train at Bedford Avenue. (The main difference, of course, is that Williamsburg isn’t stuck in the middle of the East River.)

Recently, Mr. Kalkin met with M.T.A. officials to discuss the impact of the tram closure on the community. He has enlisted students at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation to study Roosevelt Island’s unique transportation needs. There is also talk of a ferry that would depart from the island’s northern end.

For now, though, most residents are just hoping to get to work on time.

F This!