Thursday, August 12, 2010

Economic Observations From The Road

In prior years, I've written posts describing economic activity and summer holiday traffic in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. This year, I traveled north to Georgian Bay, about two hours north of Toronto.

We drove up a few Sundays ago on New York's Taconic Parkway amidst almost no cars. At the time, I thought little of it. Even after we exited to the NY Thruway and points north, traffic on a summer Sunday afternoon was fairly light. So were the roads through the Adirondacks the next day, as we headed west, then north, again, to cross the border at Thousand Islands bridge.

But the real shock was our return this past Tuesday. Traffic between Toronto and the border at Niagara Falls was, as usual, heavy on a weekday morning. But as soon as we entered the NY Thruway heading east, things changed dramatically.

Stopping at the Pembroke service center, we were stunned by the lack of cars at 12:30PM on an August weekday. The food kiosks inside, as well as the tables, were deserted. This was typically prime lunch time, when such a service center would be crammed with people using all the building's services.

The traffic on 90 East for the remainder of the afternoon was very light. There may well have been as many trucks as cars. These were both true for the oncoming direction, as well. It was painfully obvious that, this August, Americans were staying home in numbers.

As the afternoon wore on into evening, we turned south in continued sparse traffic. Once again taking the Taconic south from Albany to Connecticut, we drove among very few cars, and noticed equally few in the oncoming direction.

I've driven the Interstate portions of this trip for many summers, but I cannot recall ever seeing so few vacationers or such ultra-light traffic. Traffic so sparse as to make you think you are driving at 6AM on a weekend morning.

Add to other macroeconomic signals of US economic condition this empirical, anecdotal evidence that US consumer vacation travel and, thus, spending, is extremely weak this summer, adding further to already weak discretionary spending and the revenues of vendors serving those needs.

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