Great Drives: 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible

Jim Fets

Surprisingly, given the size and density of New York City, getting away from it can be relatively quick and easy. Maybe not during Friday evening rush hour, but plot a morning departure and you're onto some very nice driving roads in relatively short order - even before you cross the city line.

The credit for that situation belongs largely to one man, Robert Moses, who built many of the New York area's parkways, bridges, and expressways, opening up destinations outside the city to anyone with an automobile. To escape from New York and head north, you would probably avail yourself of the Henry Hudson Parkway. One of Moses's most contentious projects, it was built as part of Riverside Park atop the New York Central railroad tracks on the western edge of Manhattan. Prioritizing motorists' views over those of park users, the road then slices through Upper Manhattan's Fort Tyron Park and Inwood Hill Park (at the time, the island's last true wilderness) before leaping across the high bluffs on either side of the Harlem River, via the Henry Hudson Bridge. Despite the road's devastating effects on several parks and neighborhoods, when it opened in 1937 the press was rapturous, describing it as a "masterpiece," "intoxicating," and "the most beautiful drive in the world."

By all means, you'll want to have the top down for it, as the Henry Hudson offers spectacular views of the river, the George Washington Bridge, and the Palisades beyond. The Mini convertible's standard Openometer tracks your total top-down driving time.

In the Bronx, the highway wends through the neighborhoods of Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale, its lanes narrow, and it sometimes curves abruptly. Of course, that's no sweat for a car like the Mini, with its small scale and quick steering. Finally, the parkway swerves east, into Van Cortlandt Park (where it hooks up with another Moses creation, the Moshulu Parkway) before meeting up with the Saw Mill River Parkway at the city line.

The Saw Mill carries you into leafy Westchester County, which earns its descriptor immediately even though you're traveling through its gritty southernmost city, Yonkers. That's because the Saw Mill, like most Moses parkways, was designed not merely as a highway but as a "ribbon park," with landscaped rights-of-way and arched bridges - each one subtly different in design - that were faced with native stone so as to blend in with the landscape.

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