Parking in garages and lots will not be affected.

David Tarlow, owner of Tarlow Furs Limited, who some call the unofficial "mayor" of Charles Street, said the plan sounds reasonable, adding that his car windows were smashed twice when thieves stole his handicapped parking placard. But he is worried that merchants could lose business if the closest parking spot for the disabled is too far from their store.

"A lot of times, they call me in advance and say, 'Dave, where can I park?'" said Tarlow, who has owned his business for 62 years.

Irene Smith, who owns the Woman's Industrial Exchange on Charles Street, said the Parking Authority should come up with another plan — such as giving disabled drivers stickers for their license plates.

By designating certain street parking places for the disabled, the city is effectively limiting where those individuals can go, said Smith, a former disability rights lawyer. "They are setting up a structure where the people with disabilities can park where the government thinks they should park," Smith said.

Smith said the city needs to rethink its parking strategy to make Baltimore a place where people want to come and feel welcome. Among the problems, she said, are parking enforcement officers who ticket too aggressively and certain streets that allow parking only on the left side — which requires disabled passengers to exit vehicles into traffic.

"My frequent customer is a person who needs handicapped-accessible parking," Smith said. "It is really hard to try and get them to come back into Baltimore — to come, shop, eat, do anything when they think they need to park five blocks away."

Dr. Nollie Wood, director of the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities, said the idea of doing away with placards could limit independence for some with disabilities. The placards provide flexibility to people who can use them in their own vehicle or in a friend or relative's.

He noted that individuals who are disabled can still park in any metered spot — they will just have to pay. The multispace meter kiosks already in use in Baltimore meet the standards in the Americans With Disabilities Act. Unlike the new single-space handicapped meters, however, a motorist might have to walk to use a multispace meter and then walk back to put a receipt in the car.

The spots that will be reserved for the disabled are being selected by the Parking Authority with the input of advocates, hospital officials and others, according to Wood and Little. The spaces are being selected based on proximity to curb cuts and where street grading is level.

The new meters will provide real-time data that will enable the Parking Authority to modify the location of the spots for the disabled if certain spaces are underutilized or in heavy demand.

"People with disabilities are looking for equal opportunity," Wood said. "They are looking for more parking spaces so they can park closer to their neighbors and friends, businesses and churches. They are looking to have a greater sense of independence that this project will provide."