Biking the car-less streets of New York City after Hurricane Irene

I’ve suddenly found myself stuck in New York City after my 3-day Rome trip canceled. Watching the news last night, it looked like Manhattan would be without power and struggling even to survive the ‘storm of a lifetime’ on Saturday.

Instead, after Hurricane Irene passed through the city earlier this morning there was an erie calm. As I woke up, I wondered if we were in the eye of the storm.

It turns out, Irene may have some strong winds on the back side, but for now, a little fun could be had by biking through the empty streets of the city.

Here’s what I found at 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, the U.N. Building the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge and the East River. Wide open streets and unencumbered riding! A video is the best way for me to describe the morning:

There was a atmosphere in the city today. One biker told me he saw people playing Wiffle Ball in Times Square. Tourists, with nothing else to do, gathered on Broadway, umbrellas in hand, just to look at the streets.

New York is an amazing city, but after a snow storm or situation like we had today, the break in monotonous city life offers a chance look around them and see just how great this place is.

I thought I’d had enough of Irene after experiencing it from the air, but today Irene brought many of us a pleasant surprise, and some time to reflect on how thankful we are that it wasn’t worse.

New Roosevelt Island Tram in NYC

Cities employ myriad modes of transportation for commuters and tourists. From subways to rickshaws to monorails to water taxis, there is no shortages of ingenuity when it comes to moving people around. In 1976, however, New York City became the first city in the world to operate a tram for urban transportation. The Roosevelt Island Tram transported people between Roosevelt Island and east side of midtown Manhattan up until March of 2010 when it was shut down for renovations. Today, a brand new, modern, state-of-the-art tram once again allows commuters and tourists alike to sour over the East River and enjoy views of Manhattan unavailable anywhere else.

Gadling took a ride on the new tram before it even opened to the public. Can urban transportation be exciting? Keep reading to find out.

%Gallery-108524%The new tram was fabricated by Leitner-Poma. You might not know the name but, if you ski, you very well may have enjoyed their products. They’re responsible for many of the gondolas, ski lifts and trams you find on mountains around the world. Perhaps that’s why the new Roosevelt Island Tram looks significantly sleeker and more sophisticated than the rest of the bland, utilitarian vehicles that comprise the rest of the New York City transit system.

For those of you worried about a repeat of the 2006 incident in which 47 Roosevelt Island Tram passengers were stuck 250 feet in the air for several hours, rest assured that this new tram has several backup systems and fail-safes. The two trams run on four motors but can operate on only one. There are four independent braking systems. Perhaps most importantly, the tram can run completely off the grid and keeps a hefty supply of gas to power its generators.

The ride is smooth and silent. Unlike the subway, there’s no jerky start to jostle passengers. Suddenly, seemingly effortlessly, you begin elevated above Second Avenue as traffic flows right below you. Huge windows provide 360-degree views of Roosevelt Island, the East River and the east side of Manhattan. As you gently pass the upper floors of high rise buildings, it’s certainly amusing to spot people at the desks as you’re pretending not to stare. Before you know it, you’re at the apex of the ride, high above the East River.

The trams themselves are spacious. The windows keep claustrophobia at bay. A tram operator rides with passengers and controls everything using a touchscreen interface. This is a far cry from New York’s 100-plus-year-old subway operation. Everything about the tram seems modern and sleek.

With the new tram in place, Roosevelt Island is once again accessible via public transportation beyond solely the F train. And while more people may know about the Staten Island Ferry, the Roosevelt Island Tram is another wonder of New York City transit. For just a swipe of your MetroCard ($2.25), you can take a three-minute ride above the East River. Not too shabby for a New York City attraction that actually serves a very useful purpose.