Until sometime in 2009 when the Roosevelt Island Tram is taken off line for several months for a major rehab and upgrade, residents have two choices on how to travel into Manhattan, the aforementioned Tram or the F Train. It then comes down to a decision on which is the better path and what trade-offs do you want to make.
In simplistic terms Island residents will use the Tram if they are traveling as far West as Lexington Avenue and use the F Train if they are headed past Lexington. Obviously the first stop on the F in Manhattan is Lex / 63rd but the transfer to 59th Street is annoying with all the stairs / escalators at that station and the added 4 block walk south despite it being a free above ground transfer.
Last week I was contacted by a stay at home dad, Jonas, who lives up at the Octagon but who needs to temporarily travel daily into Grand Central Terminal. He was curious whether it makes more sense to (1) take the Tram to Manhattan and to then walk over the two avenues to Lexington in order to catch a downtown Lexington Avenue Train into GCT or to (2) take the F Train all the way around to 6th Avenue / 42nd Street and walk back East to GCT. I love this kind of question and to be honest I am a low level subway geek which has spread to my 6 year old son who already has many lines memorized.
In each scenario there are possible variants by working into the equation the NYCTA Bus system but for this exercise we’ll leave that choice out for the moment. FYI, Jonas upon reaching GCT will be hopping onto Metro North so his commute will be a bit earlier than the average Manhattan – bound New Yorker who is looking only to reach their desk by 9:00 am.
Before I discuss my own views I want to ask which route would you choose in the poll provided in the sidebar. If you have specific reasons please post a comment to this post.
My own views on commuting are to generally go with fewer transfers and do not be afraid to use a little foot power even if you end up adding an extra few blocks or an avenue or two. This pseudo-rule obviously has exceptions if the weather is crappy. Then I determine how much time do you need or have to be in the bad weather.
(1) The Tram / 4-5-6 Train combo.
This route is a pretty good one for Jonas as it will put him directly into GCT. Possible hang ups are (a) crowded Lex line trains at 59th Street and / or (b) possible weather issues on the two avenue walk to Lexington from Second Avenue. We took this route for several months when I commuted with one child further downtown. We occasionally had to let crowded 6 Trains and most trains were somewhat crowded but the trip usually moved pretty fast.
(2) F Train to 42nd Street and 6th Avenue
I have found once you get on an F Train at the Roosevelt Island subway station that it moves pretty fast. The earlier you get to the station on the Island the easier it is to get onto a Manhattan-bound train. To get to 42nd Street without any incidents of sick passengers will generally take no more than 20 minutes on the train. The walk from 6th Avenue to GCT is a healthy two to three avenues (Fifth, Madison, and Vanderbilt) and if it’s raining you could be setting yourself to being quite wet when you arrive at GCT. There is the alternative of staying underground transferring from the F train to the 7 Train at 42nd street which can bring you right into GCT. The walk to the 7 Train, underground, is about ¾ of one avenue but in the rain it is worth it. On a beautiful sunny day the walk above ground past Bryant Park is great and I always enjoy passing the Main Library along 42nd Street. You also avoid the crowds coming up from the subways within GCTand you can stroll into GCT via the Vanderbilt entrance.
For me it’s toss up as each is fairly easy. On a sunny day, I’d probably opt for the Tram/Lex combo as the transfer is early and you are brought right into GCT. On a rainy day I like the F Train with the option of being completely underground (but for getting to the subway here on Roosevelt Island via Red Bus). How would you get there from here?