Today's NY Times has a story about the unexpected rise in retail sales over the past month. In part this is attributed to the tax rebate checks. What I am curious about is the relation between rising sales and fewer miles traveled (popularly attributed to higher gas prices). If VMT are declining the related economic effects should be seen elsewhere through lower employment or depressed retail sales (and other discretionary purchases) if travel is a derived demand. While unemployment is up, it hasn't increased to the point that we'd see a large drop in traffic.
Calculated Risk points out that while retail sales are up, they are down on a year to year basis by a bit less than a percent. This makes more sense considering the drop in VMT than the optimism of the NY Times story. The elasticities between VMT, retail sales, and transit use based on the price of gas (or other marginal costs of travel) deserves a closer look.