Ok, so taking the advice here and reading online I think I have a handle on this...how the equipment available when it was in vogue drove its development. Namely, back in the 5 speed days of more widely spaced rear clusters.
When I was at the co-op today (they know me by name now) something in the freewheel drawer caught my eye, gold Suntour with a wide range. Turns out it was a nearly perfect condition, yet horrifically dirty, 14-32 6-speed (14-17-20-24-28-32).
That got me thinking, here's a more widely spaced freewheel, how would this work with my new bike's half-step gearing setup? of course for $4 I got it...it's in the ultrasonic now
Here's what the gear inches look like for the stock setup (50/45, 14-28):
And with this 14-32 freewheel:
If I'm reading this correctly doesn't the second case more even steps between the 45 and 50 chain rings? If one was looking for the half step gearing it seems to me the second case does it better and provides yet a lower bailout gear.