Steen MN vs Drenthe NL

Yesterday morning Andrea Boeve of Steen, MN was killed while riding her bicycle along MN 270 with her two children in a tow-behind trailer. She was killed by Christopher Weber who was driving a pickup truck.

He was apparently paying more attention to his cell phone than to the road and likely just barely crossed the painted white line on to the shoulder where Boeve was believed to be riding. Boeve would likely still be alive today if we had better infrastructure. Here is MN 270 near where Boeve was killed.

MN 270, Steen, MN

MN 270 near Steen, MN (Image: Google)

Following are images of similar roads around Drenthe, Netherlands






When I heard about this crash I thought of this woman and her children.




Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

42 thoughts on “Steen MN vs Drenthe NL

  1. Travis

    I see your heart is in the right place, and of course this is a tragedy, but comparing the comparison between these rural areas of the Netherlands and a state highway in rural Minnesota is hardly comparing apples to apples. Rural Netherlands is far more densely populated than rural MN, especially that corner of the state. Even the most dedicated of bicycle enthusiasts would agree it is impractical to build dedicated bike trails alongside every paved country road in the state.

    The images from the Netherlands are all from lower-speed roads near small medieval villages, which is not something we have here in the US. There are typically at least 10-20 miles between small towns in MN. Our highways among our gridded farmland are going to be designed for faster travel than the old, meandering European roads that connect every little village.

    I’m not sure if you are arguing for slower rural highways, or separated bike paths, or what, you didn’t really specify. But this is an entirely useless comparison you’re making. Would you mind clarifying exactly what kind of improved infrastructure you had in mind?

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      The Drenthe photos are mostly between Assen and Groningen which is 18 miles with one town between (IIRC). Steen to Luverne is 11 miles. Speeds and traffic volume are not too dissimilar. I’ve spent a bit of time in southwestern MN near Luverne and Steen and the area is quite similar to the areas of Drenthe pictured above.

      Why is it impractical to build bike paths along these roads in MN? The Netherlands has done it. Many similar roads in Denmark and Sweden have them as well as Germany and Finland. If they can do it, why can’t we?

      1. Travis

        Yes, the specific distance from Steen to Luverne is 11 miles, as opposed to Assen to Groningen. But both Assen(67,209) and Groningen(198,108) are far, far larger than Steen(180) and Luvurne(4,745). Also, there are a number of villages between Assen and Groningen, while there are zero municipalities between Steen and Luverne.

        Also, Europe developed in a much different way than the Upper Midwest. European ag-land consists of little towns where farmers live, and farm the land around it, which concentrates populations, making a higher ROI on infrastructure investments between towns. In Minnesota, every farm family has their own farm site and several fields to farm. Towns only popped up when there was an economic demand. So even if the rural population densities of MN and the Netherlands were the same, ours would be more spread out.

        How are these areas at all similar? And your source for traffic volumes?

        1. David Hembrow

          Walker: I’m very sorry to hear of this awful incident.

          Travis: I note that you first reply pointed out that the Netherlands has “small medieval villages” before changing track in your second reply to state that the towns in the Netherlands being “far, far larger” was significant. You can’t have it both ways.

          In fact, the Dutch manage to create pretty good conditions for cycling in almost every situation whatever the type of village or town which is being linked. It’s required not only for adult commuters but also to make sure that school-children living in the villages can get to school. It’s not at all unusual for rural kids to ride a 40 km (25 mile) round trip every day simply to get to school and back. No school buses are provided.

          Here’s an example. This road and cycle-path join a village of 280 people to a village of 410 people (another village in the middle has fewer than 400). In this case you’re talking about much smaller numbers of people being served than is the case with Luvurne, and the cycle-path continues past each of the villages at either end to go to larger towns.

          Or consider this example which joins up almost nothing at all over a very long distance, but where there is a splendid cycle-path alongside what is quite a busy main road.

          Note that that second example could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as an “old, meandering European road”. Frankly, very few of our roads, villages or towns meet your description. The Netherlands has infrastructure of every age, including some of the worlds very newest. The world’s largest artificial island, sea-bed until the second half of the 20th century, now contains spread out villages as well as large cities. Everything is new there. The only medieval things to be found are the remains of ship-wrecks which are now on land. Nevertheless, in these new areas the infrastructure has also been designed to make cycling entirely a rational means of getting about.

          Cycle-paths are not required alongside every country road and they are not built everywhere in the Netherlands. But not to build them requires a different kind of intervention. Another way to create good conditions for cycling in the countryside is to change the usage of roads so that drivers are excluded from them. Where there is a good quality alternative route for drivers, the most direct route can be made impassable or un-useful to through motorised traffic by making the surface rough (with a smooth bypass for bikes), erecting barriers or simply by reducing speeds such that it’s quicker for drivers to take the other route. These techniques have been used to a very great extent in the Netherlands. Of course, like cycle-paths this is also not a one-size-fits-all solution. Both techniques are required because both are needed in different circumstances.

          BTW, while you’re correct that Minnesota has a more sparse population than Drenthe, Drenthe is less heavily populated than five other US states, all of which have a far lower cycling modal share.

          It’s the infrastructure which makes mass cycling possible, desirable and safe in the Netherlands. It works whatever density you have, while its lack leads to less cycling again regardless of density.

          1. Travis

            David, thank you for your reply. I’d like to clarify a few things if I could. First off, I believe I can have things both ways. By “small medieval villages” I meant that most of the rural areas are made up of these little towns, which is not to say that there aren’t larger cities interspersed throughout – Assen I would consider entirely urban, not rural. And by “medieval” I only meant that they were mostly formed during that time period, I did not mean to imply they are somehow archaic or obsolete, all developments obviously evolve over time. I was simply alluding to the differences in development patterns in both areas.

            I also did not mean to suggest that newer towns can’t exist, such as the ones you mentioned near the sea. I think you were taking some generalizations I made about the area and acting as though I was presenting them as absolutes, which I did not intend to do.

            Lastly, nothing I said was meant to suggest that we cannot or should not improve our rural cycling infrastructure here in MN, I was only bringing into question the comparison of Drenthe to SW MN, which I do not feel have much in common in this context.

            1. David Hembrow

              While what you see today in the Netherlands may look “old”, it’s mostly not actually old at all.

              I think you’ve not quite understood the extent of new development all across Europe as settlements have grown. For instance, the population of Assen is now more than 3x what is was in 1945 and the majority of buildings and roads in this city, like most others right across Europe, are no more than 50 years old.

              The Dutch spent much of the period between 1945 and 1970 building new city streets to resemble what were seen as “modern American towns”. It took a huge effort in the last three decades of the 20th century to reverse this.

              The same things as were done here to reverse a destructive attempt to build new infrastructure on American lines can just as well be applied in America itself. There’s no fundamental difference.

              While Minnesota may be able to point out a legitimate difference due to lower population density, American states which are of higher population density have also not taken the same steps as were taken here and for them it can only be easier. Remember that the Dutch transformed their entire nation, not just a few towns here and there or even just some provinces.

              The new towns that I referred to before are not actually “near the sea”. They’re built on land which until the 20th century was sea-bed but so much was reclaimed (in the form of large lakes as well as land) that these locations are now a hundred kilometres from the sea (this link shows the route between where the sea is now and one of the new cities). This is engineering on a huge scale and provides a great example of how it is possible to build the future that you want.

              Take another look. Here is an example of a long, straight American style country road with cycle-path alongside. Nothing that you see at that link is as it was before the 20th century because everything that you see is on what was sea-bed until just a few decades ago. You won’t find any small medieval villages between the two cities served by that road.

              1. Froggie

                David, since you seem pretty familiar with Netherlands geography, I have to ask: how agricultural is Drenthe? I ask because southwestern Minnesota is HEAVILY agricultural.

                A related question: how dense is the road network in the Drenthe area? Again, here’s another case where we might be trying to compare apples with oranges. In much of rural Minnesota, the average road spacing is about 1 mile (1.6km). That’s a significant distance. Your suggestion of closing roads to vehicles but keeping them available to bikes likely wouldn’t fly with such sparse road spacing, not to mention work with the farmers who would still need access to their crop fields.

                1. David Hembrow

                  Yes, I’m quite familiar with the area which I live in.

                  How agricultural is Drenthe ? It’s the most agricultural, most spread out and lowest population density province of the Netherlands. You may be surprised to learn that the Netherlands, despite its small size, is the second biggest agricultural exporter in the world. Only the US has higher agricultural exports. i.e. agriculture here is important and it is also sophisticated. There’s a very high production rate per area.

                  Closing roads to through traffic does not mean that they’re closed to farmers.

                  Farmers still have access to their crops. That is of course vital. There are many service roads in the countryside which are usable by bicycles and agricultural vehicles only. In some cases signs state as such, in others (like this example there’s no need for a sign as they simply go nowhere by car).

                  There are also roads which have been dug up so that they’re usable only by agricultural vehicles, but not by private car. Take a look at this example.

        2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Where she was killed is 17 miles from Sioux Falls with a population of 250k.

          “So even if the rural population densities of MN and the Netherlands were the same, ours would be more spread out.” I’m very confused by this statement.

          I agree that there are certainly differences, but there are also many similarities. Also keep in mind that our roads are the most dangerous in the developed world (except for Greece) and by a wide margin. We clearly need to do something other than make excuses.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Maybe we should have a standard where any rural highway over a certain AADT (maybe 500) triggers wide paved shoulders, and a higher AADT (maybe 2000) triggers a sidepath.

      Of course the shoulders wouldn’t protect a bicycle driver from a motorist who swerves out of the lane due to looking at a cell phone, but at least we’d be encouraging rural bicycling more than we do with no shoulder/gravel shoulder on rural roads.

      1. Froggie

        MnDOT does have such a shoulder standard, but it’s far higher than 500. Usually not cost-effective to build shoulders on such low volume roads in such rural areas.

        Meanwhile, Travis has a very good point regarding population density. The Netherlands has the density to support such bicycle infrastructure. Southwestern (heck, most of…) Minnesota simply doesn’t.

        1. Cameron ConwayCameron Conway

          I think it has more to do with the US and the Netherlands having completely different approaches to the degree to which roads, urban and rural, should accommodate non-automobile uses. In most of the US, we seemingly go out of our way to not built accommodations for alternative transportation. In this case, I feel like a fully separated gravel path on one side of the street would be impossibly cheap and far safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The only reason not to build this is lack of political will.

      2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        CROW guidelines for non-built-up areas (eg, rural):

        50 mph or over: Segregated cycletrack (side path) or parallel road.

        35 mph (> 3000 pcu): Segregated cycletrack

        35 mph (> 2000 pcu): Segregated cycletrack strongly preferred, suggested cycle lane or cycle lane as alternative.

        35 mph (< 2000 pcu): Cycle street (bicycles have ROW) or combined traffic. These are minimums and there are numerous caveats. The first is something that David Hembrow and others have pointed out which is that Dutch traffic engineers respect minimums as what they are, minimums and very often go several steps beyond when they feel it is necessary. CROW states that the speed is actual, not just posted. So, if the posted is 35 mph but traffic is likely to go 40 mph then design up to the next step (in this case a segregated cycletrack). There is also a road length table that effectively states that as roads and thus the cycle routes along them get longer (and so an increase in bicycle / motor vehicle encounters) the more likely that a segregated cycle track is necessary.

        1. Froggie

          Does the Design Manual show that in a nomograph format? Would like to generate one up to compare it to others I’ve found.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      I think paved shoulders would be a game changer in rural MN. But maybe that’s because I live in Minneapolis and bike everywhere.

      We’ve looked at buying some rural property in the past, ideally with a nice old barn to restore, but I’m rather particular that it should be within a few miles of a nice town and be bikeable to town. That necessitates at least paved shoulders if it’s a highway to town.

      1. Zack

        As someone who lives in rural Minnesota and bikes everywhere, I totally agree. Though most roads aren’t high traffic, it’s still harrowing to have even a few cars flying by at 55 mph, even though most drivers are very courteous. Too many roads have no shoulder whatsoever, which means that for all but the bravest rider, they remain off limits. You can stitch together routes with the numerous gravel roads, but they’re often not the most direct paths between towns. Even if MnDOT put 2-3 foot shoulders, it would do a world of good or as Walker suggests, build dedicated paths. They don’t have to be particularly wide or amenity filled, but basic routes connecting neighboring cities would at least give people options. There’s more than enough space for such additions and it’s a game of priorities in my mind. For now, MnDOT seems more committed to removing cycling facilities (35E crossings) and addressing “congestion” on 94 (which will only induce more demand on the lanes they’re adding) than giving people safe, alternative choices for getting around.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          “but basic routes connecting neighboring cities would at least give people options.” Yes.

          Building on what David said above, the Root River Trail (actually a path, not a trail, but I digress…) connects nine towns in southeast MN. Though primarily a recreational trail, it has been increasingly used by locals for transportation.

    2. David Hembrow

      Many things are done less well in Denmark than they need to be. Please remember the background to their criteria. i.e. that cycling has been in decline in Denmark for twenty years. It’s really not the best place to look for in order to find examples of policy which successfully encouraging people to cycle. Being fabulously successful at self-promotion is not what’s required to make even their own population feel safe on a bike, let alone the people of any other country.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        To add to what David said, 31% of Dutch use a bicycle for their primary mode of transportation, 19% of Danes do so. 19% is still very good, but far below what The Netherlands have achieved. Denmark also has a higher fatality rate among bicyclists and possibly quite significantly higher (next weeks post).

  2. Froggie

    I’m also partial to paved shoulders on rural 2-lane roads, as much of MnDOT’s state highway network has them and a few select counties as well…namely Wright and Olmsted. There’s also an acute lack of paved shoulders in many parts of the country I’ve been to (especially south of the Mason-Dixon, except for Maryland).

    I’ve also read enough of MnDOT literature to know that, at least in District 3 (Brainerd/St. Cloud), they have a desire for all state highways to have paved shoulders. Unfortunately, between lack of funding, maintenance, and competing demands elsewhere, they have to strike a delicate balance between pavement, work-requiring-grading, bridges, and demands for congestion relief.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Seems to me that paved shoulders (thereby creating a facility for all users, not just those in motor vehicles) is a higher public priority than congestion relief. I hope we can change that order of priority to reflect a broad base of access to our state’s transportation network.

      1. Cameron ConwayCameron Conway

        I’m really skeptical of paved shoulders as any kind of solution for bike/peds in these kinds of areas. That doesn’t improve safety at all, and is only really beneficial for people using thin tire road bikes. Why not create a gravel version of what you see in these Dutch photos? That would be far cheaper and actually create distance between cars and vulnerable users. Rural cyclists don’t have density on their side when it comes to the amazing paths in these Dutch photos so clearly paving separate paths isn’t practical. Still, lets be advocating for solutions that actually improve safety.

    2. Monte

      This point bears repeating, Minnesota is much more generous with paved shoulders than a most of the country.

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      How much benefit is there to a paved shoulder vs a segregated side path? Shoulders tend to collect the detritus from the traffic lanes and some are never really cleared of it (though plows during winter help). They’re pretty much unusable during winter. How many people will be encouraged to ride on a shoulder vs a segregated side path (particularly with semi trucks whizzing by at 65 mph)? They essentially have most of the same problems as bike lanes.

      Essentially, a bit of grass between the traffic lane and shoulder (e.g. side path) makes a huge difference.

      A shoulder is better than no shoulder perhaps, but I think far far short of the benefits of a segregated side path. What then is the incremental cost of a side path over a shoulder?

      1. Froggie

        Regarding winter use, you’re much more likely to see shoulders plowed outside the Metro than a segregated side path…

        Furthermore, bicycle advocates in several parts of the country have suggested that bicyclists on shoulders are more visible than bicyclists using a side path…especially at driveway crossings and intersections. That has significant safety implications.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Those are both easily surmountable though. Bicyclists being seen is mostly design; insuring that the existence of the side path and its ROW is obvious by using continuous pavement, color, and grade for the path and using shark’s teeth where necessary. Also insuring good sight lines for drivers. None of this adds expense.

          Plowing the paths is purely choice. The city/county/state chooses to plow them or not. Depending on the maintenance folks you talk to this either doesn’t cost any extra or does. Some say that doing the shoulders or bike lanes requires and extra pass anyway and that pass can just as easily be on a dedicated path. It seems to me that there would be some extra cost but I don’t have a clue how much.

          For me, I’ll ride on the segregated side paths in Shoreview all winter with few if any problems. I do not feel safe riding on the plowed shoulders in Vadnais Heights.

  3. David

    in Denmark, rest of Europe, for years it is illegal to talk on phone while driving, at least without a wireless head set.

  4. Brendon SlotterbackBrendon Slotterback

    This isn’t just about infrastructure. The guy was using his cellphone. Talking on your phone while driving is legal in Minnesota. Minnesota (and the US generally) make it pretty easy to kill or maim someone with your vehicle without consequences. These laws could be changed. High penalties and automatic liability for drivers involved in cyclist/pedestrian crashes could reduce distracted driving.

    1. Rosa

      Or stick with low penalties but MUCH more enforcement, done before someone is hit or killed.

  5. Dave

    How about making all personal contact information of these killer drivers public. They need to be stalked, harassed, badgered, into either taking their own lives or giving up driving. They’re not people–we need to have the guts to stop treating them as if they were.

    1. Froggie

      Nobody should ever be bullied into taking their own life. NOBODY. I’m sorry but I cannot agree with your “bullish proposal”…

  6. Travis

    After following the comments on this page for a while I have begun to suspect that the author is more concerned with affirming himself amongst criticism rather than being open to others’ thoughts and comments. So I did something I should have done in my first comment. I ran the numbers on density in the relevant areas to put the density debate to rest. I took the sq km for each area against most recent population figures from Wikipedia.

    Area: 2683 sq km
    Population: 488957
    Density: 182.2 people per sq km

    Rock County (home of Steen and Luverne)
    Area: 1251 sq km
    Population: 9687
    Density: 7.7 people per sq km

    I even did the three surrounding counties in MN

    Pipestone County
    Area: 1207 sq km
    Population: 9596
    Density: 8 people per sq km

    Nobles County
    Area: 1871 sq km
    Population: 21378
    Density: 11.4 people per sq km

    Murray County
    Area: 1865 sq km
    Population: 8725
    Density: 4.7 people per sq km

    As you can see, the densities from SW MN are far far lower than that in Drenthe. But to be fair, I even calculated the figures from Minnehaha County in SD, where Sioux Falls lies, just to be sure I wasn’t leaving out any nearby population centers. And guess what I found?

    Minnehaha County, SD
    Area: 2107 km sq
    Population: 169468
    Density: 80.4 people per sq km

    Still significantly lower than Drenthe.

    Can we please stop debating the density issue now? Walker, I have lost all respect for you as blogger on this site. You seem to be primarily interested in making broad, vague claims. And when someone questions you you seem only to be interested in affirming your own opinions. I am done here now. Thank you for listening.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      So we should accept deadly rural road design because we don’t have the density to justify safety? Maybe I’m missing the point.

      1. Travis

        Yes, you are missing the point. The author of this post was comparing Drenthe, Netherlands, to Southwestern Minnesota, and asking why SW MN isn’t like Drenthe, since, he argued, they are similar areas. I NEVER said we should not have safer infrastructure, but was trying to point out the fact that SW MN and Drenthe are not similar at all, and therefore should not be compared to one another. But my point was apparently misread and the argument was steered into another direction. All I am saying is that these areas are not comparable. That is all. And I just presented proof of it. Jesus people, I don’t understand why this is so hard of a concept to grasp.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          The point Walker is making, and the point which is absolutely critical (and lifesaving) is that we need safer facilities for human beings in rural areas who aren’t in fast-moving steel cages. I don’t think density is as big of a driver of outcomes as the combination of surrounding transect (land use context), motor vehicle use, and tolerance for safety factors.

          1. Froggie

            This is the utopia. The fiscal reality is something far different. MnDOT just doesn’t have the budget to be doing what Walker and David suggest on every rural paved road in the state (let alone every rural road period).

            I’ll be the first to agree that safety needs to be considered. But short of a drastic and huge increase in MnDOT’s funding (which itself would likely not be sustainable), the rural cycle track idea is completely out the window and we are limited in our options. We can argue the value of a human life until we’re blue in the face…but at some point common sense needs to take hold. Is it REALLY worth it to add such bike facilities in an areas where the population density per square mile is measured in single digits? Might as well get all those rural dwellers fat-tire bikes to ride on the gravel roads. Plenty of those down there.

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              I understand that many improvements will not be economical, but I still think we should value the safety of all road users before the convenience of some (motorists).

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Travis. Excellent information. As to broad, vague claims, keep in mind that this is a blog and is written by volunteers. Space and time both dictate some level of broad and vague. In this particular example (as for nearly every post) I would love to have the time and resources to do an in-depth study of rural MN, compare it to other areas, and come up with workable solutions that create a safer and more enjoyable environment for some affordable cost. Most of us do not have the time and resources available to do that though.

      That is where you and I and everyone who reads or writes comes in. You raised some great points in your first response, I responded with my thoughts and knowledge. Others joined in. Did I defend my position? Of course I did. I still do. Segregated cycleways or even paved shoulders may well be astronomically too expensive in both creation and annual maintenance, however, and speaking of vague, I’ve not seen anyone post any numbers on what these costs are.

      Knowing the costs is then only the beginning. What is the value of saving a life? How much are we willing to spend to reduce our state’s roadway death toll by 100 people? What is the value of more people choosing to ride bicycles and thus reducing obesity, fuel consumption, and number of vehicles on the roadways? Is there a tourism benefit to SW Minnesota such as Drenthe has seen? Or that Fillmore County in SE Minnesota has benefitted from with the Root River and other bicycle trails?

  7. Tom

    I agree with Travis, that southern MN & rural Denmark are not really comparable.

    Having said that, I DO support a statewide standard for a minimum paved shoulder width on all two lane roads. This is not simply to accommodate cyclists – it makes it much safer for motor vehicle traffic as well. A very common motor vehicle accident is when the driver strays off the paved road (for whatever reason, fatigue, inattention, distraction), then overcorrects to get back on the pavement. Often results in rolled vehicles, collisions with oncoming traffic, etc.

    A minimum 6′ shoulder, with rumble strips separating the vehicle lane from the shoulder would be a huge improvement in safety, likely preventing the death of the woman in this story, as well as many of the types of accidents I mentioned above.

    Separated bike trails in rural MN is quite frankly, ridiculous. They would be little used, and the idea that they’d be plowed in the winter is a joke. Even around the Metro area, plowing on most of the trails is not the top priority. When they do get plowed, they are passable, but are anything but “clear”. And some of the trails just don’t till days after it has snowed. Eagan, in particular, states on their city website that paths will not be plowed until all the streets have been plowed, and NO overtime will be incurred to plow the paths. What this means is that by the time they are plowed, there is a crusted on layer of snow and ice that will be present until the weather warms up enough to melt it off.

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