A man struggled to push his wheelchair on a snowy Boise sidewalk. Then this happened




Ada County residents and business owners, it is your responsibility to shovel the sidewalks in front of your buildings.

Over the last few weeks the Treasure Valley has seen a significant amount of snowfall. December was one of the snowiest months on record for Boise. This means sidewalks must be cleared often to avoid injuries from people traveling along the roadside.

One Boise man may have prevented an injury on a lightly snowy afternoon on Tuesday.

Dave Hess, a Boise resident for 16 years, said he was driving northbound on State Street when he saw a man in a wheelchair get off a city bus and carry the straps of his grocery bag in his mouth to keep his hands free to push himself in his wheelchair. The man struggled to push his wheelchair along the snowy sidewalk at Collister Drive and State Street.

Seeing him struggle "struck a chord" with Hess.

"He had a gallon of milk in his bag, and he was carrying it in his mouth," Hess said Thursday by phone.

Hess pulled into the Edgewater Apartment complex a short distance from the Collister and State intersection and walked over to the man. He asked the man if he needed help. Hess said the man did not speak much English but made clear that he appreciated the help.

Hess said the sidewalks along State Street were so snow-filled that he had to push the man in the bike lane. He pushed the man a block and a half to his apartment in the Good Samaritan Home on State Street.

Dave Hess, a Boise resident of 16 years.
Dave Hess, a Boise resident of 16 years.  

Hess got back to his car, went home, and called the Ada County Highway District and the Idaho Transportation Department. Those agencies plow streets, but both told him that the city code compliance department is responsible for holding businesses accountable for shoveling their sidewalks.

Boise City Code requires that "property owners and persons in charge of buildings ... remove snow from sidewalks ... in front of their properties." That's a common requirement in many communities. An Ada County ordinance has similar language, making the resident or business owner of a property responsible for shoveling snow on the sidewalk in front.

Justin Corr, Boise spokesperson, said that the code compliance staff can write citations for individuals and businesses not shoveling snow on the sidewalks. But the staff cannot remember ever issuing a citation.

"Their strategy is just to encourage folks to remove snow as quickly as they can to avoid being responsible for any injuries … especially for folks who have a harder time getting around," Corr said in an email.

Tracks left by the man David Hess saw struggling to push his wheelchair across the snow.
Tracks left by the man David Hess saw struggling to push his wheelchair across the snow.  

Even without local-government enforcement, a property owner might be at risk of a lawsuit by someone injured because an adjacent sidewalk was not shoveled or salted.

Hess posted his story about the man on Nextdoor, where it quickly sparked interest among the North End neighbors. The post had 47 comments by Thursday afternoon.

"The businesses along State have no excuse to not clear the sidewalks. Period," said one comment.

"I also stopped to help push a lady in a wheelchair who was stuck in the snow on Monday … and this was at a crosswalk!" Said another comment.

Hess said he began shoveling the sidewalk near State and Collister on Thursday afternoon.

"Business owners and property owners don't understand that they are responsible for other peoples' safety in front of their house or business," he said. "It is a total safety issue."

He said he meant his Nextdoor post to be a public service announcement, to show people that some have more trouble getting around in the snow than others.

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