Sunday, May 22, 2005

Hello operator? I'd like to report a really weird island.

The weather today couldn't have been better, so I kicked off my project of biking to every bikable island in NYC. The Five Boro Bike Tour has already knocked off Manhattan Island, Long Island, and Staten Island, so today's destination was Roosevelt Island.

Since the 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge goes over Roosevelt Island, and since the bridge (which I've biked across several times) has a sign directing vehicles to the island, I thought foolishly that there was some exit ramp from the bridge to the island. False. I biked over the 59th St Bridge, which is a terrifying experience, because the bike/pedestrian part is all the way over to the edge, and the fence just isn't very high; sitting on the bike raised me up high enough that I felt like if I were somehow to run into the fence, I would go tumbling down into the river. So I stayed as close as I could to the inside railing, all the while looking for the imaginary exit to Roosevelt Island. I landed in Long Island City without seeing it. I turned around (staying at ground level) and biked over to the park by the river. There was a big party with dancing and music in a language I didn't understand and couldn't identify, with a sign saying "WEL-COME". Does anyone know what language it was? I stared at Roosevelt Island for a while, trying to figure out how people got there; that exit ramp from the 59th St Bridge just didn't materialized. Then eureka! There was another bridge, further north, from Queens to RI. It turns out there is no direct land connection between Manhattan and RI, just the subway and the tramway.

I took the other bridge onto RI, and there was this strange building, where I expected to see an airlock or passport control. It contained a parking garage -- apparently people who live on RI keep their cars there and use them to get off the island (I didn't see many cars on the island itself). The bridge arrived a few levels above the ground, and I had to take an elevator to ground level.

The island isn't large by any means. It's even narrower than Israel; you can see water on both sides! I'm pretty sure that I saw the whole island (some of it more than once) just by biking around. The architecture along the main street (called Main Street) is classic '60s-style riotproof Peabody Terrace style. All the storefronts have a consistent font and color scheme for the names of the stores (sans serif yellow letters on blue background), and it's not just stores - "Family Pizzeria", "Post Office", "Catholic Church", etc. The schools (just called "Elementary School", "Middle School", and "High School") have their own font and layout, but the buildings look exactly the same as everything else. The exceptions are the Episcopal church (which looks like a church) and an 18th-century house that has been restored. Overall, it was interesting to see this self-contained enclave within New York City.

I didn't want to go back to Queens and then back to the 59th St Bridge (especially since I would have to be on the outer lane of the bridge this time) so I took the F train back to midtown and biked home from there. Roosevelt Island is frum about identifying as part of Manhattan: the subway sign that I expected to say "Manhattan and Brooklyn" said "Downtown and Brooklyn", and a new luxury condo development was advertised as "Manhattan's newest village".

Next stops: Randall's Island, City Island, Coney Island (like Monster Island, really a peninsula).

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