Ronald Kirby, a well known official with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and one of the region’s premier experts in transportation planning, was found fatally shot inside his Alexandria home Monday, and police said Tuesday that they are treating the case as a homicide.
A relative first found Kirby unconscious inside the home about 12:30 p.m. Monday, and police soon descended on the stately brick residence to launch an investigation. The home remained cordoned off with yellow police tape Tuesday, and two Alexandria police cruisers were stationed outside, The Post’s Matt Zapotosky reports.
Kirby, who was director of transportation planning for the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, was the foremost authority on transportation issues in the District, Maryland and Virginia. He knew numbers off the top of his head and could explain complex transportation planning issues in plain English.
News of his death spread quickly, leaving many who worked closely with him over the years shaken.
His colleagues at COG released the following statement:
“All of the officials and employees of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Transportation Planning Board are devastated by the loss of our colleague, Ron Kirby.
“Dr. Kirby, one of the region’s leading experts on transportation planning, was a key figure in all aspects of our work on regional planning and collaboration. He guided the work of the Transportation Planning Board for more than 26 years. His deep knowledge and wise counsel assisted local, state and national officials in reaching consensus on the major transportation issues over the years.
“More importantly, he was a trusted colleague and a dear friend to all of us at the Council and his associates around the region. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family at this difficult time.”
Other regional officials praise his smarts and his collaborative manner.
“We’re all stunned and it really is like a punch in the gut,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who worked closely with Kirby for almost two decades. “It’s a significant and tragic loss to our region. He was one of the most dedicated public servants we know. He had a very difficult and complicated job in coordinating the technical and political issues involved with planning for the future of our region. These will be some big shoes to fill.”
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said Kirby and his wife lived in Alexandria for several decades.
“He is a professional and it is a tremendous loss for COG and the metropolitan region because he is a transportation guru,” said Euille, who is also vice chairman of the COG board. “His death and loss will be a huge hole to fill at COG and in the region.”
The Post’s Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, said Kirby stood out because of “his willingness to consider divergent points of view about solutions [which] was well-suited to his role with the [Transportation Planning Board], a panel representing a diversity of urban and suburban interests, as well as different philosophies on the role of government in solving transportation problems.”
Transportation politics in the D.C. region often pits travelers and communities against each other in competition for scarce resources to ease congestion, but Kirby urged travelers not to pick sides, based on their favored mode of transportation, but instead to work together in support of a common goal of maintaining mobility in an urban environment.
“Ron Kirby was the first source I called on my first day as transportation reporter at The Post in 1989,” said Stephen C. Fehr, who covered transportation for The Post until 1996. “He knew everything about the region’s transportation system, past and future. He was a mass transit guy who rode the subway and bicycles, but he was careful not to impose those views on a board of directors whose members included suburban elected officials partial to roads. Ron never took himself seriously but was serious about improving the Washington region’s transportation system.”
Kirby joined COG in 1987, and as part of his job he oversaw long-range planning for public transportation systems in the D.C. region. Before joining COG, Kirby directed the transportation program at the Urban Institute, where he analyzed the federal highway and public transportation programs.
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.